Call Bells


I find myself walking up the steps to strange houses all the time. Usually they are to farm houses. When they are, on their porches, three “olden days” things are sometimes found.

Often they still have a very old front door hinged up, complete with its original skeleton key lock. They don’t use these locks anymore. The same door now has a new lock added to it, usually a little bit higher. But there also remains the unused skeleton key lock with its fittings which look something of a Benjamin Franklin design.

I’m no kind of break-in artist (I have a hard time opening up ziplock bags), but these locks look like, if you’d stick in a pencil and wiggle it about, it would pop right open. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s what they look like.

You might also find an ancient doorbell. It would be of a manual operation. You turn it, or pull it, and a bell sounds off somewhere inside. They’re fairly effective. Usually no other bell or knocking device has been added.

“Still using the late 19th century one, thank you.”

The last item is a call bell. It hangs on the front porch like a miniature church or schoolhouse bell. You will find it attached to the porch’s wall or ceiling. Once in a while, I ask if I can give it a ring. That is, of course, if the situation is appropriate. I want to see if it is a real call bell, for bringing the men in from the fields. A fake, faux, touristy country-store-look-alike hardly rings. The real deal chimes like the last trump of Christ.

When they let me test it, usually I find it to be the real deal. You almost have to cover your ears if you are the ringer. I’m sure these used to rally them in rather efficiently from quite the distance from the house.

Let me say, I love discovering these things. I have the blessed life. I really do.

Even with all the “sower” illustrations of the Bible concerning pastors, still, I am not an actual farmer. When working at home, April does not have to call me in from very far. Once though, she did develop a little call bell all her own. Worked nicely, too.

The parsonage we live in used to be carpeted. Dan to Beersheba. Wall-to-wall. Every room. After a few years, April grew tired of it. She prefers hardwood and ceramic tiled flooring. So she took to the notion of ripping  out our carpeting to see what lay hidden underneath. At the time, I did not possess enough faith in my spiritual life for something like this, unless she was also ready to re-carpet whatever ugly Pandora beasts we would end up releasing. I did agree to pull up two select corners of the room for a tiny peek. We did, carefully. Sure enough, there was some original hardwood.

Still, I played the cautious one. All I could imagine was large sections with plywood nailed down in the middle of our living room. Lovely. It would be Rug City, unless we carpeted again.

Not April. She was a believer from the get-go. She had full faith in whomever originally laid the flooring. In her bones, she knew them to have been honorable fellows of great skill. I imagined the Marx Brothers. It took a little doing, but several conversations and a couple of German Chocolate cakes later, she had talked me into it.

Then came the fateful day. We yanked ‘er all up. Wha-lah! It was hardwood floors, as far as the eye could see. A real find. It was not quite the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, but you could hardly tell by April’s reaction. She was elated. With some ripping out of a ton of carpet tacking, and some heavy duty sanding, then staining, then polyurethane coating we were in business.

Never doubt your wives, men. They are always right, well, until they’re wrong. But April was sure right this time. I give her all the credit.

One negative side effect to this process was the revealing of certain creaking in our floors. Not a lot. Here and there. Just enough to give the room character. In one spot, it creaked pretty good. April found that spot. In time, it became her “call bell.” If I was working in the office below our living room, April would stand on that board and creak it three times. Three shorts. That was Morris code for “lunch BLTs are ready.” When message was sent, a certain Bill I know would hit “save” and come running.

Funny how distinct a few squeaks of the floor can become when they are organized into “three shorts.” In that basement office, I heard little squeaks regularly, whenever she walked across the room. I would think nothing of it all morning. But when three shorts sounded off, it was all I needed to hasten towards the stairwell.

Years ago, growing up in Chicago, there was a certain family that lived across the way. They had another “call bell” altogether. It was their father. He was a yeller. He hollered meanly at his kids with some regularity. They could be standing two feet away from him and he’d yell at them like they were a mile off. Spiritually, they probably were. This was very serious. I mean, this guys was one burly, surly, Nimrod of a man. I did not like him, not one tiny bone in the whole of his upset, raging body.

On certain nights, we could hear him from inside our own house, doors closed, going off on the kids. The nine of us would be at our own dining room table, talking, chowing down, and the sound of this man would enter. His voice had the power to transcend his own front room, pass through his own wooden door, his storm door, go down his cement stairs, cross his lawn, pass over our street, through two lines of parked cars, cross over our lawn, round our huge maple tree, go up our wooden stairs, pass through our storm door, our porch, and go through our wooden front door, all the way up to our ears.

We couldn’t hear distinctly what was being said, but it sure wasn’t, “Good job, children. Proud of you. I just wanted to say.” Lord, have mercy on those kids for whatever it was he was saying. I could only imagine.

A few times, when this happened, I remember our dinner conversation stopping completely for a few moments. We’d listen. Not a lot was said, by us. We just all sort of looked at each other.

That was one of the first times that I remember being thankful for my own family situation and my own parents. On their worst day, they didn’t have the “call bell” of this guy. Comparatively, my parents were pussy cats. Even non-comparatively, my parents were pussy cats. Well, my mom was a pussy cat. My dad, more of a mountain lion, but one who loved his cubs, truly.

Across the way? I guess I didn’t know what was across the way. It wasn’t love. Some sort of destruction, I worried. I know that I feared for what was across the way. I seldom talked to it. Him. Whatever. When people like this get mad enough, I usually think that I get closer to the truth using “it.” “It” is the savagery mankind enters when, without soul, we practice anger. It can be true for any of us. It was sorely true of this man. Needless to say, I avoided the gentleman at all costs.

All of this to say, “please, check your ‘call bells.'” It says a lot about you. As a parent, I never minded graduating from pussy cat to mountain lion, but never ascend higher than that. Ever!

Better still is three short squeaks which say, “Bill, I love you, but your BLT toast is getting cold.”



We have set July 5 to be the date for this year’s fireworks display. I am joining my pyrotechnic forces with Dan again this year, so successful was last year. We are talking of shopping for the resupply to our armory this or next week. The shopping part is just as fun as the demolition of the grass over at Dan’s place. If you are in the state, you may want to stop by. We paint the sky enough to make Francis Scott Key proud.



“The world cannot satisfy the heart, because the heart is too large for the object.”

J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988)


About William Cole

I am an all-the-time pastor, a part-time hospice chaplain, and a sometimes author. The church is eight miles out in the country from Marshall, MI. The hospice work is with Oaklawn Hospice, where I am Spiritual Care Coordinator. It's right in the town of Marshall. The writing I do to relax. I am elatedly married to my wife, April, and am a proud father to two fine young ladies, Ashley and Maty, not to mention my delightful exchange student daughter, Jessica.
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