It's possible we had the only cowbell in the neighborhood, growing up, but I wouldn't swear to it. This was a brown old thing, copper or brass, I suppose, that had the look of actually having been worn by a cow. Perhaps a cow in Queens, from whence my People came to this tree-lined swath of suburbia.
There were five of us kids, and at dusk (if we were lucky, and she was home from work), Mom would lean out the door and shake the thing vigorously. Its clapper would sound the country call. Chowtime! Grub's rustled! Come n' git it! There's nothing quite like a cowbell in the hands of a cook. Certainly not on a cow, where it has an almost elegant restraint, a single melodic donk every once in a while. Or in a country-rock song, where it introduces itself most bodaciously to set a certain formal tone and then departs until the next break. No, a cook has a deadline and needs to communicate urgency over distance. Git it while it's hot! I don't care where y'are, get on home! This thing would pop and clang and hit wooden notes and create a sort of Appalachian jazz chaos. You could hear it a good way off. And not just you. But your neighbors. Your friends. Your enemies. The ones who Wouldn't Understand.
I don't know if we were the only family with a cowbell, but I do know that we were the only ones to get summoned for supper by one, like ranch hands or farm laborers, maybe loggers up in a forested camp. Play would cease (although to be honest, we ate later than everyone else, so we might have been loitering out there kicking a ball around just waiting for the bell) and we would rush back to the house from five different points, salivary glands firing madly, Pavlovian cues as deep-seated as those instilled in any laboratory.
So we were mildly embarrassed by the cowbell, but it meant something else, as well. It was Mom calling us home to get some good food and to bask in the family. It was kind of like the opening bell in a boxing match, too; five kids don't switch from running around outside to sitting down to table without punching one another a few times. I know it's seared into my memory, and I'm sure it is for the other four. One lasting effect, interestingly, is that I get hungry during marathons and at your more commercial country shows.
I like to think now that the other kids envied us. THEIR Moms would lean out, sure, but they'd just yell in Brooklynese for "all a yiz" to "get in heeh."
We had a BELL.