Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ding-a-Clang-a-Lang-Ling Ding

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.


Magpie said...

I'm starting to think you're some kind of sibling. First the Jericho Cider Mill, now this. My mother didn't have a bell - she had a whistle. An old hand-made bronze whistle, that you could hear two blocks away. When she blew the whistle, it was time to come home.

walkingfool said...

When dinner was ready, my dad would raise his shoulders slightly (which was the best to his ability to show an expression of earnest) and say the simple phrase, "All right..." but in a barely perceivable octave higher than his normal frequency. He did all of this within the confines of our breakfast nook (we hardly ever used our dining room) and it was the responsibility of my brother and I to omnisciently “sense” these subtle indicators from wherever we were to know that our meal had been properly prepared and was ready for consumption.

Bill Braine said...

A WHISTLE? What were you, freaks?

Suzanne said...

We had bell, too. But it was a tiny giftshop trinket that I picked up for my mom while I was at an amusement park with my friend's family. It made a tiny little "tink tink" sound, and my mom would have to call us all to gather around the bell first, and then ring it to signal dinner. It was a crappy dinner bell. But I didn't know where to get a cow bell when I was 7.

wcs said...

We had neither bell nor whistle nor subtle parental signals. We were lucky to have dinner.

Whenever we heard all the neighbors' bells and whistles, we wandered homeward and there was usually something to eat.

Bill Braine said...

Bells and whistles...how did I miss that?

Anonymous said...

Jeez, one time somebody gave my aprents London policeman's [read "
Bobby's"] whistle. My Mom used it thereafter to call us all in from the neighborhood's far eaches to tell us dinner was ready to be served. I think, in retrospect, she must have allowed us 10-15-20 minutes to get in, because dinner was ready shortly after we all arrived. No, we weren't freaks Bill.