Thursday, December 27, 2012

The silver bell redux

The back steps
101 Garrison Street
Wilmette, Illinois, circa 1936

Long ago, perhaps in midlife, I wrote about mother’s silver dinner bell. Its Zen like tone summoned Florence, who served holiday dinner parties when I was a child. Mother rang the bell when it was time for the next course, and Florence came through the swinging door moist with kitchen heat, the air in her wake bearing hints of wonders yet to come.

I can’t remember the content of that long ago story; perhaps it conveyed nostalgia for the home, the family unit in Wilmette, the visiting aunts, uncles and cousins, and a longing for my mother. When I was growing up, there was warmth like no other in her arms.

I’m certain I purloined the bell the day my two sisters and I sat on mom and dad’s bed after dad died, deciding on the division of stuff, large and small. Henceforward and always, the bell remained in my possession no matter my nomad life.

I say “always,” but that is not exactly true. The bell returned to me the day after Christmas this year, as we packed up things I’d given to my late daughter, things her widower has no connection to, things that will never be passed on because he and Laura were unable to conceive.

We wrapped the Spode dinner service, my sterling silver, and the chocolate set that belonged to one of the great aunts who sat at table in Wilmette. For now, they will reside with my son and his wife in Bellingham, perhaps eventually finding their way to my eldest grandson, who has progeny. The bell remains with me.

“Is this the bell you gave to Laura when she got sick?” Dan asked.

“Yes,” I replied as he carefully swathed it in thick paper towels.

I waited till Laura’s end seemed imminent, when almost all possible treatment options had been exhausted, when it seemed she might become too exhausted to rise. I thought she might spend some time in bed in their big house, might have need of a bell to summon help or at least a glass of water. But I was wrong.

Mostly she headquartered on the sofa in the great room from whence she could watch films and her favorite television series, at least until electronic gadgetry became too complicated. She complained loudly that there was something wrong with all of it, and so she merely held court, and when it was time to retire she hugged everyone and walked up the long, bent staircase on Dan’s arm. It was thus even the night she lapsed into unconsciousness, by then in hospice care. No need for a bell. Ever.

The silver bell, with its luscious reverberations at the ready, sits beside me now, December 27, 2012. I may use it to summon the muse as I strive to write my next assignment, a book about Loo and Moo; or perhaps it will summon mother, Aunt Sophie, my sisters, Jeanne and Lynn, and Laura – all strong women in whose arms I experienced profound comfort.

Laura Morefield and Charlene Baldridge
Christmas 2008
Our stories are legion. Our love, vast.

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