Girlhood. Momhood. Lifehood.
Insights on navigating the craziness of life with young kids one — “large coffee with skim please” — day at a time.

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Bells and Buckets

December 4th, 2007

You know during the holidays when you come out of the grocery store, or the mall, or the subway and you hear that bell ringing? That “Ting-a-ling-a-ling…Ting-a-ling-a-ling.” It’s an incessant yet pleasant sound, kind of a sleigh bell-choir bell hybrid that’s now synonymous with the season. It’s seemingly everywhere — the sound of Salvation Army bell ringers.

Well this past Saturday morning that bell ringer, for exactly one hour on the corner of Main Street, was me. A few weeks ago I had spied an ad in a local paper looking for volunteers. I figured it would be a great way to introduce my son, age four, to the world of charitable giving. And it was a small time commitment. And if nothing else, he’d be totally into the bell.

So on Saturday morning, I made my clan of four bundle up (the minivan temp gauge read 27 degrees) and we headed to my designated post in front of a drug store. As instructed, I went up to the counter to fetch my sign, my bucket and my bell. My holiday card-esque vision of the four of us smiling and bell ringing on the corner spreading holiday cheer was quickly downsized to just me, with my dollar store felt reindeer antlers, standing on the corner spreading holiday cheer, while the rest of my crew dove into a local coffee shop for warmth and donuts. Oh well.

10:00 a.m. My shift has officially started. I set-up in a patch of sun on the sidewalk. I’m enthusiastically ringing the bell. “Ting-a-ling-a-ling.”

10:10 a.m. I’m ringing and hopping from foot to foot. I’m waving at traffic, adjusting my antlers as needed against the harsh wind. Gosh it’s cold.

10:15 a.m. Someone walks by. “Good morning!” I chirp. They nod in my direction and pick up the pace.

10:20 a.m. I can read the big town clock up the street which is good because it’s too cold to lift my sleeve to look at my watch. “Ting-a- ling-a-ling… Good Morning!” The little bells on my antlers jingle. A few more pedestrians pass. Nothin’. Geez.

10:30 a.m. I’m halfway done with my shift and I’m getting nervous now. What if I’m the worst bell ringer so far this season??? I may have to slip a few bucks into the bucket to make up for it. My husband runs a coffee out to me. Now I feel guilty that I’m drinking a $3 coffee while I stand there waiting for loose change.

10:35 a.m. Someone honks as I wave. Yes! Acknowledgement of my existence! At least I’m providing holiday entertainment for a few dozen cars. That’s good, right? “Ting-a-ling-a-ling.” I move the bucket a few feet to play keep up with the sun.

10:40 a.m. The Christmas tree over in the town square is swaying back and forth and the fake presents under it are blowing around on the sidewalk. It’s really stressing me out that they might slide away down the street and I won’t be able to save them because I have to guard the bucket…not that there’s anything substantial in it, but I take the responsibility of guarding the bucket very seriously.

10:43 a.m. Yikes. Not a penny in the pot. A few cars with Christmas trees tied on top drive by. A couple loaded with shopping bags scurry by. I think for a second about what it would be like if I actually needed this money for myself. But I don’t. I have a hat and gloves, a scarf, a warm jacket, a purse with a wallet with cash and credit cards and keys to a car and a warm house.

10:45 a.m. 15 minutes to go on the clock! Maybe I should start singing “White Christmas” or something. Then, out of the corner of my eye I see a woman come out of the coffee shop. She doesn’t have a coat on. She’s jogging toward me. She’s looking at me! I smile as she approaches. She’s got something in her hand.

“Good morning!! I say. “Ting-a-ling-a-ling. Ting-a-ling-a-ling.” I’m going bananas with the bell now.

She smiles back as she shivers against the wind. “It’s such a good deed you’re doing out here! What a nice cause.” She trots up to the bucket and drops in a wad of cash that I can see includes a ten dollar bill and a few ones. Score!

“Thank you so much!” I say beaming. “Happy Holidays!”

“You too!” she says. And she jogs back to the coffee shop. That was least $15 dollars! Is she the owner of the coffee shop? A regular? Did she take a small collection, inspired by my bell ringing and my antlers and my hopping?!

10:47 a.m. Suddenly, a man pulls up on a bicycle, all smiles. “Hey there!” He chuckles. He hikes the front wheel of his bike over the curb and comes to a stop. “You’ve got such enthusiasm I just had to stop!” He pulls out his wallet and puts a dollar in.

“Oh thank you!” I gush. “I really appreciate it!”

“Do you want a cup of coffee?” He says. “You must be freezing!”

“Oh no thanks,” I say, “I’m all set, but thank you so much. Happy Holidays!” I can’t get over how my luck has turned around!

My donut-eating crew joins me on the corner for the last few minutes but I decide to send my husband and two-year-old daughter to a warm store. My son stays with me. We’re waving our hearts out to traffic. A few passerbys drop in some coins. I instruct my son to say “thank you” and “happy holidays.” All of this is probably lost on him but we’re having fun. “Ting-a-ling-a-ling.”

10:59 a.m. The town clock is telling me it’s about time to pack it up. I scan the street one last time to see if I can get one more patron for good measure. A man is approaching…

“Hi, I’m Bill, I’m your replacement.”

“Oh Bill! Hi! Nice to meet you! Things are picking up!” I say. He smiles. He has a nice, friendly face. We shake hands. I’m a little sad when I have to hand him the gold bell with the wooden handle. We wave goodbye.

My son and I jog up the street to find Daddy, laughing as we race each other. Behind me I hear Bill jump right in… “Ting-a-ling-a-ling. Ting-a-ling-a-ling.”

It’s the sound of a little Salvation.

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