Just Waiting For The Bells

The trees are stark white and gray, naked in their winter wardrobe. The lack of leaves and foliage allows sound to travel great distances, over the hilltops, stretching to reach into the valleys.

A rare warm January evening had me slowing my pace to get inside. The sun had not quite set, still time to watch the birds feeding at the new feeder in a nearby tree. Only the breeze and the rustling of the birds broke the late afternoon silence.

Then I heard them. Clear, strong and melodious, the bells pealed from a church atop a nearby hill. No lawnmowers or tractors blocked the sounds wafting from the bell tower of this neighboring place of worship. I stopped, dropping my packages on the picnic table along my driveway. I could not waste this opportunity to listen to a mini concert of the bells  brought to my ears on that unusual winter breeze.

It was more than just the usual chimes to mark the hour. This was a full-fledged hymn playing to an audience far and wide. As the chimes faded and the evening turned still again, the birds returned their attention to their dinner, chirping and singing as they they came and went.

I have been fortunate in my life to have lived in places where church bells signaled each hour and the carillon methodically produced a song — mostly hymns — at special times.

When I was growing up, the bells at Vance Church on National Road told me it was time to head home from the “Chef” or nearby park where young teens sometimes gathered.

Later when working in the downtown area, church bells would alert the business community that it was noon and time for lunch. And workers would spill out of offices and banks, heading up or down the streets of town for a quick bite at the many restaurants that used to dot the streets.

I watched an old movie recently. It was called “One Foot in Heaven,” and starred Fredric March as a man who gave up a career in medicine to become a Methodist minister. He and his family moved from town to town, building new congregations as they went. His dream was to build a grand church in one town, a church with a majestic set of bells.

After realizing his dream, March’s wife thought the family would finally settle down in one place. It was not to be. March and his family would be moving on to yet another small church to build a congregation among the faithful.

On his last day at the grand church, he sat at the carillon and played “The Church’s One Foundation.” People stopped in their tracks and headed toward the church. Businessmen, housewives, firefighters, children — they all heard the bells and hurried to the church. The bells brought an entire town together.

I’m waiting, listening and hoping to hear the bells that will unite this country again. Who among us will make the first sound?

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.