When you come to visit my grandma, the first thing you'll notice is an old iron dinner bell at the front of her yard, rising twenty feet in the air, still standing strong though its task of calling the family in for supper has long since been relinquished.
The dinner bell has always signaled the hubbub of family coming together in the kitchen to share good food, good stories, and simple love.
As children, it called us in from our explorations of the farm, fishing escapades, and games of house in the tree grove. We would kick off our shoes on the way into the crowd and weave a path toward the line already forming at the buffet style meal. Cheesy potatoes, pasta, meatloaf, homemade rolls, corn and green beans fresh from the garden awaited.
As teens, the bell interrupted conversations with cousins on yard swings, walks down to dusty road to the creek, and quiet reflecting. We piled plates with slightly more sensible food choices and headed to the back bedroom where extra tables sat on the blue shag carpet.
As parents, it urged us to fill plates for little ones. We settled bibbed babies into high chairs and left aunts or husbands to tend them while we joined the back of the line to fill our own plates.
The dinner bell was never to be rang without permission, and only a few times can I remember watching the result of a child sounding a false alarm. But many tempted hands reached for the heavy chain that hung almost out of arms' reach, wanting to see what muscle was needed to pull it. Once or twice, it was my turn to ring the bell. I remember grabbing the chain as high up as I could reach and hanging with all my weight... once, twice, three times to create the clang that delighted my ears.
It's been years since I've heard the hollow dong of that bell. It stands now as a yard ornament, and my children will not share my memories of it. Now, holidays are celebrated at the homes of aunts and uncles, and a quick shout out the front door or call on a cell phone is all that is needed for dinner to begin.
For now, my grandma's house stands lonely, hopeful for her return from her extended hospital stay... eager to wrap her once again in the memories of happy marriage, family love, and joyous blessings created within the walls of that old house. And rest assured, the first Sunday meal shared after her return will most definitely start with the dong of that old dinner bell.