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The bell tolls
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The courthouse in this town has just tolled the hour of three.

She is a pretty bell
with a clear, pleasant tone.
This bell sounds younger
than my own bell,
the one that sounds from behind the slatted arches below the clock in the
Second French Empire tower where my home bell resides.

My home bell.

And how many sleepless nights have I listened to my home bell toll the hour of three?
Sometimes I am awake by choice, making things up and writing.
Sometimes I am awake with
thoughts teeming, one upon the other.

Then, from across the cemetery I hear the steadfast ringing, perhaps just for me at this hour.

The first ringing alerts me
to intently heed the following two.
The strike,
The decay.

This is the same bell my mother heard when she was a child in her bedroom of the house that is now a funeral home.

This is the same bell my grandmother heard when she was a child in her bedroom of the house that was torn down to build a post office. That became a library. That became a medical supply store. That became a pretend police station.

See? The bell is steadfast. The keepers have kept it so.

I know, I already wrote the word, steadfast.

Certainly that is a word worth writing thrice. Steadfast.

But now, in this is other town, where I am merely a guest...

this bell seems pleasant enough
but it is ...terse? The sustain is shorter. The strikes closer together.
This bell is cheerful but a little hurried.

She reminds me of the voice of Florence Henderson in the Brady Bunch.
You know she is somebody's mom.
But she is not your Mom.

Within the clock tower of Oxford College's Seney Hall rings a chipped bell. That bell sounds as broken as I know she is. She is choked and embarrassed. Like an old lady, bade to speak, but one who's voice has begun to quaver. Mayhap she has been overworked. Once a year, during commencement she is called upon to toll for each student.

A gift to the college from Queen Victoria, she has had to suffer the indignity of having graffiti scratched and scrawled around her. I am sure she has been struck a few times with objects other than her own clapper.

•. •. •. •. •

In this world there are grand and revered carillon towers where the bells are fist-hammered by an unseen musician, muscling melodies (who's dischorded overtones one is to ignore).

And there are the fraudulent, insipid cloing-cloinging tones of electronic carillons shattering hymn tunes from atop many a small town church at lunchtime. (Does this really bring people to Jesus?)

Ah, but bell I know the best, my own courthouse bell, has a rich, singing sound. It truly

I would know it anywhere. (But, how would it have gotten there?) For me, all tolling bells shall ever be judged against this one, the one I have known all my life.

One note pealing with a leisurely space between the strikes, not interrupting the birdsong. Rather, accompanying the birds.

I hear it from a perfect distance,
carried on the winds
of my home.

A native of Covington GA, Andy Offutt Irwin is a nationally renowned storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter, musician, whistler and human noise maker. Andy’s take on small town life has resulted in 10 albums, 1000s of shows, and many awards, including the 2013 Oracle Circle of Excellence from the National Storytelling Network. He can be reached at