Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sleigh Bells

We've been doing treasure hunts at home, the girls and I.  The hunts begin with a poem, and each stanza will have a little hint about what the treasure is and it also directs the girls to a different part of the house, where they find the next stanza - behind a vase, in the piano bench - and off they go.  The culmination is the discovery of some fabulous treasure.  At least it's fabulous if you happen to be six or three.

Past treasures have included marbles bigger than a six-year-old's fist (Karen thought that one was dangerous - the marbles have since been confiscated) shards of crystal (purple and pink and green) pretty rocks - treasures are all around, you just have to give a child a map and watch where they'll go.

So for the holidays I thought we'd hunt sleigh bells.  I'm way into sleigh bells.  They're pretty, musical, their sound is Christmas - and they can be old.  I'm also way into old things.  Old booze, old books - my house was dusty before flappers came on the scene, and I might like it most of all.

I've been looking at the bells here and what bells they have! for a few years now but have never made the plunge.  But if I was going to get a sleigh bell, or a jingle bell, or, um, wait, what's that?  You didn't know about the different types of sleigh bells to be had?

There are petal bells and Swedish bells, double throat and round ridge bells, machine stamped and shank & rivet bells.  There were British bell-makers, like Robert Wells, American bell-makers, like William Barton.  Bells of brass, bells of silver.  Bells bells their tintinnabulation is magic - but magic often begins prosaic.

Why sleigh bells in the first place?  Well, sleighs can be hard to stop, don't you know, so laws were written requiring that sleigh horses wear bells to warn one and all that Trigger was coming through.  Some of these laws still exist in Canada, which is why Canada can often be cooler than the US.

Anyway - bells, bells, I love the sound of sleigh bells.  So we're going to go exploring and scavenging on Christmas, and sleigh bells will be the treasure.

Oh, one thing I didn't tell you about sleigh bells.  Petal bells like those pictured above are easily distinguished with the circle of petals around their tops, and some petal bells are marked with numbers.  That one up there, the one on the left?  Do you see the #8 above its throat?  Most numbers ranged from #000 (for 3/4 of an inch across) to #18 (for 4 inches across).  I thought it would be fun to get the girls a petal bell numbered with their age - so I was looking for a #3 and a #6.

Is this something we could do year after year, until they're 18?  Why, I hadn't thought of that.

The gentleman at Classic Bells couldn't have been nicer - and we quickly got the order taken care of.  But then, not long after, he called back.

I have some beautifully marked #3's, he said.  And I have some really lovely #5's, and some sweet sounding #7's, and while I have some petal bells that are 6's, I don't have any that are marked with the number.

Oh, I said.  And then I got quiet.

Your girls might not even notice, he said into the silence.

Elizabeth? I'm thinking to myself.  Elizabeth would notice.

Well, I said, after I recovered, could Santa write a note and tuck it in with the bell vouching for the fact that it's a #6 even though it's not marked?

This time it was his turn to get quiet.

For about a three-count.

Yes, he finally said, yes.  Santa could write a note.

I was going to dictate a little something, but he shushed me, he shushed me and said, Don't worry, Santa will come up with a little something.

And this, really, is why I love running a small store.  Because I can be like the kind gentleman in Potsville, Iowa - you knew he lived in a place called Potsville, right?  I mean, it had to have an echo of It's a Wonderful Life, didn't it?

Of course it did.  Just like you knew that on his website, he writes, We welcome visitors in our home-based workshop, but we do not keep regular shop hours. Please contact us a few days in advance to set up a time to visit.

So I love running a small shoppe because, if someone asked me to write a note, from Santa, I could pause, consider my own daughters (as he did.  His daughters are grown now, but his pause - after I asked if Santa could write a note - his pause allowed him a moment to consider his own daughters when they were little, and so of course he answered the way he did), and with any luck, if given the opportunity to answer a question from little Virginia O'Hanlon, even if it was in my guise as the manager of a little bookstore on Park Street, with any luck, I'd reply, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas.


  1. I enjoyed reading this while listening to Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You (Brian Wilson's all time favorite album).

    But then, I enjoy doing almost anthing while listending to that album. Jewish boys know Christmas!

  2. Christmas Baby Please Come Home?

    Love that.