Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Old Copper Bell

Sometimes I am asked how do I come up with ideas for my poetry. Here is one example:
My wife Linda and I enjoy going to estate sales, both to tour the houses and to shop for interesting items. Linda collects salts and their silver spoons. I collect old bottles, old small tins, and metal bells. I must own 150 bells now of all sizes and shapes. I have them divided into groups, such as animal bells topped with various animals, lady bells (ladies in full skirts and bonnets), bells of differing heights, etc. I have become more selective in deciding to buy a bell when I see one nowadays. Friday we hit three estate sales. At one sale, I found an old bell that didn't look like much. The handle had been replaced long ago with a wooden barrel with a metal bolt and nut to hold it in place. The top nut was exposed and quite rusty. The wooden barrel handle had a big crack down one side of it. The clapper was missing, with only an old, dirty piece of cord left behind, having the end that had held the clapper showing left-over rust. The top (handle part) wasn't much to look at, for sure. The bottom part appeared very old and was dark green in color. The bell was heavy. The handle was 4 and 3/4th inches tall, with the bell being 3 and 1/4 inches tall with a diameter of the bell opening being 4 and 1/2 inches across. A heavy, eight-inch tall bell! Closer examination revealed the bell to be made of copper, quite heavy and thick-walled & quite well-made. I decided to buy the bell. It cost all of $3.50. The lady at checkout said that it was copper and should shine up nicely. However, I prefer to leave the decades old green patina untouched. I can just imagine that this bell was once a grand bell and was probably quite expensive when new. I, of course, wondered about its history -- who bought it new, who all had owned it, how/where it was used, who repaired it, how it came to be sitting on a den shelf in Shreveport. The result of my imagination answering such questions is the following storoem.

An Old Copper Bell

The elderly metallurgist poured all his skill
into making this bell something extraordinary.
The bottom used the finest copper from Brazil,
and the handle couldn’t be anything ordinary.

No, this bell required something quite unique.
So, he added a handle of exquisite carved ivory
that had been brought to Boston from Mozambique.
Now this was a bell fit for even Mr. Caleb Ivery.

Caleb was among the richest merchants in town.
His only daughter, Petunia, was headed out west
to become a school teacher. She had worn down
Caleb’s resistance, convinced him she knew best.

The Old West of 1880 was still wild and untamed.
Petunia secured a teaching job out in Kansas territory.
Caleb warned her she’d be killed or maybe maimed,
but she was determined to help write America’s story.

Caleb presented her with the bell to use in her school.
So away Petunia went west, to the bustling Dodge City.
Her “school” was space in a barn with horses and a mule.
For two years she sought students with no success. A pity!

Broke, and too proud to let daddy know he’d been right,
poor Petunia became a bawdy house lady. She had talent!
When done, the cowboys would ring her bell with delight.
One day, along came this gambler, handsome and gallant.

They fell in love, married, moved to New Orleans’s Quarter,
where they became respectable, but poor. To make ends meet,
Petunia sold her precious bell to a prosperous cotton exporter.
He gave the bell to his daughter, making the circle complete.

For his daughter taught school; the bell called many a child
to attention over her career, fulfilling its original mission.
After many years, a careless boy, acting all crazy and wild,
knocked it from her desk, causing the handle’s demolition.

The teacher cried, tried repair, but she gave up in despair,
for the ivory handle, carved so magnificently, was ruined.
She threw the broken bell into the trash. She couldn’t bear
to keep it longer. Along came the janitor, Elmer McEuen.

Old Elmer knew the bell was still of use. He made
a handle out of wood, securing it with a threaded metal
bolt and nut, and used a string with a nut that weighed
enough to produce a loud clang. He deemed it had mettle.

Old Elmer had a granddaughter that taught school over
in the poorest part of town. She took the bell proudly
to her classroom. She used it well for years. Moreover,
she passed the bell down to her daughter, who loudly

rang the old bell to call her own classroom to order daily.
The bell was serving this family of teachers’ fifth generation
when Katrina flooded New Orleans. During the melee
of evacuation, the bell was left at its schoolroom location.

When the school was finally renovated, the bell was thrown
out as trash. From the rubbish heap, a tourist, a young boy,
retrieved the bell. It was dirty; its copper no longer shone;
its wooden handle was cracked; but to the lad it was a toy.

The bell was brought to Shreveport at their vacation’s end.
The boy gave it to his invalid grandmother to keep bedside.
After her death, at the estate sale, the large crowd did wend
its way throughout the house, picking up objects they spied.

The old bell was examined by quite a few and deemed lacking
in worth. Finally, a bell collector happened along, took the old
bell in his hands, saw beyond its dark green patina and cracking
wooden handle. He knew it had too much quality to go unsold.

The collector added the bell to his collection, placing it back
behind the newer, shinier bells. He bought it since it was old,
copper, and once must’ve been prized. Having no way to track
its history or where it’d been, to him its story stayed untold.

So it is with many things old. Tho’ they be rusty or battered,
a bit broken and worn, they had a worthy past that mattered.



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