Being a working farm for so many decades, there were always remnants of things lying about that sparked interest and wonder in the mind of a young boy.
Tobacco was the cash crop, but for a time cattle were kept in the back fields and there was always someone mowing and rolling hay. I can recall an old flatbed wagon sitting at the edge of one field, its old tired sunken into the dirt. It was covered with dozens of wooden spears used to hang tobacco in the curing barn. An old rusty mowing attachment sat abandoned in one corner, its blades sticking up like the teeth of some strange monster were all that was left after an epic Godzilla battle. Random tools and equipment parts could be found on the garage work bench and even in the barns. I can remember finding boxes of spark plugs and thermostat pieces in the old Chevy pickup glove box and using them to construct bases for my Star Wars action figures.
Nothing was more intriguing to me than the old dinner bell that stood at the edge of an old concrete slab between the garage and the house. The aged iron bell stood atop a six-foot piece of white painted cedar timber, and as far as I knew was always in that spot. I remember it from my very first visit to the farm back when I must have been barely 3 years old. I remember coming back to the US after living in Greece, when I was about four, that the bell was gone for a time. My grandfather likely had moved it due to a remodeling project he had undertaken. After a while, that bell was back as if it had always been there. I remember being mesmerized by that bell, the shape of it, the fact that you could ring it only if you were tall enough to grab its single arm. Then to remember that at one time it was gone, only to reappear? That made it all the more mysterious.
As I got older, I was told to stay far away from it since a family of wasps had taken up residence in the underside. Sure enough, their paper nests were visible from the ground and they were working furiously on hatching their young. Of course, as a teenager, that meant I had to ring the daylights out of that thing and run away as fast as I could.
In more recent years, the wasps long gone, the bell had acquired a patina of lychen that married it to its surroundings, most notably the large silver maples whose branches dipped down to almost touching the top of the yoke. It cemented that bell as a permanent fixture at the farmhouse. It belonged there.
Throughout the years, the bell never looked better than at Christmastime when Gran would decorate the entire post with large blue lights and garland. It would welcome us in as we arrived for holiday visits. It knew us. That bell stood as faithful as ever, watching over us and proudly wearing its decorations.
At the time of the auction, the bell sat on the back of a flatbed trailer, removed from its post, relieved of its duty, appearing lifeless and somewhat sad. It was waiting on a bid, for a new owner to take it and create a new home, to introduce it to a new family, possibly to inspire the imagination of another young child. I will always think of it happening that way. Maybe it’s been cleaned of its lychen, posted atop a new piece of cedar and is now watching over a different family. I almost bid on it myself, but to have won that bid would have meant uprooting a stately old tree in favor of using its dead wood as an art piece. I simply could not have imagined that bell anywhere else. So I’ll remember it for what it was and let its new fate remain a mystery.
Incidentally, in the weeks before the auction I was rummaging through the garage when I found an old pitchfork. It was covered in rust and cobwebs. It was a forgotten piece, one that I remember vividly from the numerous times in that garage, but one that had been ignored. It sat in its corner for decades, collecting the chemical reactions of its demise. I took it home, scrubbed off the rust, and wiped it with gun oil. The wooden handle turned out to be solid oak and the oil really brought out the hidden grain. The thing looks so good, I almost would rather hang it on the wall instead of use it as a tool. It belongs in the outdoors, in my garage. I have given it a new life. It will help me do yardwork and who knows? Maybe it will inspire more stories of where it’s been and what it’s seen since the hands that built it let it go more than half a century ago.
It seems silly and romantic of me to write affectionate words toward inanimate objects, but these are the product of my imagination. To release these words is to let go of the past, and to move on in a new direction, remembering what brought me here, who I am inside, and how the future should be just as inspiring to me now as it was when I was small.