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Vintage Ellen Clapsaddle postcard

Christmas Bells
by Maryetta Ackenborn

Maryetta lives and writes in subtropical Merida, Mexico, and describes her own garden in this story. The terrier's name is Dandy.

Dorothy hummed long-forgotten Christmas carols while she made her bed, fed the dog, and misted her potted plants. A little regret—she could no longer work in the garden—but she did what she could with a variety of indoor plants.

After resting a few minutes, she continued her chores, moving over her collection of bells with a feather duster. It was a convenience, having that collection. She loved the bells, but the important thing about a collection—any kind of collection—was that it made it easy for anyone thinking of giving her a gift. At least half of the fifty or so small bells on her shelves were gifts.

For some reason, Dorothy had been thinking about bells for several months. It came to her one day, that bells had been extremely important in human history. She thought of the time when there were no clocks, no way to tell people it was time for work, for church, for meetings, or anything else. The bells hanging in the village center, the mayor’s office or the church, would call people to meetings. Or they would announce an emergency—a fire, an enemy attack, a flood.

Next on her limited schedule, the computer. She draped herself over the comfortable chair and opened her e-mail. Nothing personal appeared, but there was a lovely little Christmas story from a website she followed. She expected no e-mails from family or friends on this Christmas Day.

She sighed and clicked off her computer. Calling her little terrier, she rose and walked out into the garden. December, in this southern clime, was time for the bougainvilleas to bloom. Her garden had been planted a number of years ago, all along the walls, with a dozen plants, and a riot of red blooms overflowed the walls and the trees close by. She sat in the sun for a few minutes, then rose and returned to the house. It was lunch time.

She gathered her novel and her telephone and set up her nest at the recliner facing the rear window. There, she could admire the flowers with just a glance.

She began humming again, and recognized the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” that lovely, thoughtful poem by Longfellow. She looked it up—the poet wrote it after losing his beloved wife to a fire, and when his son went to join the federal army in 1863. What bells did Longfellow hear that inspired the poem?

In the kitchen, she put soup on to warm, placed some crackers and cheese on a plate, and poured a glass of wine. She returned to her recliner with her lunch, still thinking of bells.

Before bells existed, there were drums or horns to call people together, at the time estimated with great precision by an astronomer, an official or a priest. The priest remained important in regulating people’s lives when bells came into common use.

Considering more modern times, she realized people often still depended on bells. You didn’t need to invest in a clock or a watch when the nearby church or tower bell told you the hour.

And today, when almost everyone owned a timepiece of some sort, bells were still important—especially Christmas bells. Many of the bells in her collection had a Christmas theme—many had been Christmas gifts. She had crystal bells and pottery bells, and a few metal bells with a beautiful tone.

When Dorothy finished her soup, she placed the dishes on the table at her side. She put her novel down and drifted off into her siesta, a habit she had developed over the years.

She woke suddenly, with a feeling of loss. What was she forgetting? Something was missing. Had she neglected to contact some of her family or friends, to wish them a happy holiday season? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t think of what or who might be missing from her list. She only wished she could have contacted her nephew and his family.

Bill, his wife, and two children traveled a lot, and sometimes months passed before he contacted her with a new address. Dorothy had sent an e-mail to his last address but received no reply. Well, it couldn’t be helped, he had chosen his peripatetic career as a journalist. She missed them. She and her brother raised Bill when his mother passed away, and she enjoyed hearing from him and his family.

One of Dorothy’s bell collection, an antique cowbell, was doing duty as her doorbell. She had strung a cord with a handle from the front gate, attached the bell, and anyone visiting simply pulled the cord. The bell would alert her—and many neighbors—that a visitor had arrived. She loved to hear that old bell clang.

Then—she did hear it. Loud and clear. She had a visitor.

Not just a visitor, but her nephew and his family. The terrier barked, always excited by a visit, and followed Dorothy to the front gate, where hugs and holiday kisses were shared by all—including the dog.

Bill brought her a beautiful porcelain bell, a delicate blue with pink cherry blossoms, that he had found for her in Japan. He quickly apologized for not advising Dorothy of his address sooner.

“That doesn’t matter,” she told him. “What matters is that the bell has rung.”

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