The farm bell

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007

It’s hard to believe there once was a time — not long ago — when there were no telephones or cell phones or walkie-talkies or e-mails or faxes.

There were no messages to check every time you got home and no need to get on the computer to check your e-mail. You didn’t have to record a voice message for all the calls you got when sleeping or on vacation. You didn’t have a conversation with a friend interrupted by a cell phone call from another friend who then had to put that friend on hold because of a possibly more important call from another friend.

There was a time when all the world was a little quieter. And because of that, a lot more was heard. The wind rustling through the trees. The serenading sound of rain falling on a rolled tin roof. That down-home sound of a swinging screen door opening and slamming shut as the spring pulls it to. The squeak of a porch swing. An orchestra of crickets on the first warm spring evening. The hoot of an owl way off yonder in the distance on a quiet, windless night. And the sound of that old farm bell just before noon on a hot summer day.

I’ve heard Sparky, Bobby, Marvin and my dad talk about that bell. Back then, they tell me, farms were only about as large as one would want to walk a mule. So all on the farm would be in earshot of the sound, as it sat, mounted atop a tall pole. Everyone would be in the fields working, and along about noon, the women folk would walk out and ring that bell.

It was the signal to head back in, put the mules up for awhile, eat and take a short break. And it’s hard to imagine what would have been a sweeter sound than to hear than that deep, metal clang way off across the field, having been on the end of a hoe or at the back end of a mule since daybreak. Like falling dominoes, that sound echoed across the countryside, offering respite to the men in the fields and fellowship for the whole family as everyone gathered around the noon meal.

My, what that sound must have done to the taste buds and meant to the aching legs and sore backs. Why, I’m told even the mules, upon hearing it, knew it was break time and headed in. The sound of that bell joined together with the sound of all the other bells, every day at the same time, and provided one more strand, one more thread woven into the fabric of the countryside and the life it offered.

Today, you don’t hear those bells anymore. The world is too noisy and too busy and too complicated. Most of them have come down off the poles and been demoted to the shed or the auction or the honeysuckle patch. Our children have neither seen them nor heard them. What was once the proud general, barking out his commands over the fields and pastures, is now but a lowly private.

But if you happen to see one somewhere — a store, a sale, a conversation piece on display — know you’re not looking at just a piece of metal. No, you’re looking at a piece of our history that was part of making us what we are today.

And I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that sometimes when we gaze at some of the old folks around us and they don’t appear to be in tune with this present world, maybe they’re not.

Maybe they’re just listening to the sound of that old farm bell.

REX ALPHIN is a farmer, businessman and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is rexalphin@aol.