Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Whom the Damn Bells Toll

No story of our Olympic journey would be complete without telling the tale of how I came to be in possession of the Damn Bells. I want to make it clear: I do not collect bells. Of any kind. I do not have anything against bells. I like the sound of bells. I like to sing Jingle Bells, and various ribald versions of it, but I am not now, nor do I anticipate ever being, in love with the idea of owning a bunch of them. Yet I do. When you walk into my house, it's probably one of the things you're going to almost for certainly notice. That, and somewhat surprisingly to me, the Swastika on the spine of my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. For the record, I am not a Nazi either, although I have been called one on several occasions.

Why then, do you ask, do I have an entire curio cabinet full of glass and china bells? Well, I will tell you.

First, let me set the stage. As the fatigue of our Olympic experience set in, my two daughters traded hygiene for sleep. That, and they didn't really give a crap. All of our winter outer wear was a little worse for wear hygienically speaking, yet we crammed all of our stuff, and our tired, irritated selves back into my Legacy and headed for home. I was tired. Dead tired. Neither of my girls were close to driving age, and I have never been a fan of someone else driving my beloved Subaru anyway, so it was all on me to get us home. And, remember that we were not particularly happy campers. I have been prone to migraines since I was ten, and conditions were ripe for one. I got it. By the end of the first day of driving, I was hurting fairly badly, and the smell of all of us and our dirty stuff crammed into the car was not helping. I splurged a little and checked us into a Holiday Inn Express so I could get a decent night's sleep, but come morning, it wasn't much better. I remember stumbling into the lobby for the Continental Breakfast to be met with a human interest story on Michelle Kwan. She had yet to skate, the women's competition being the major draw and therefore one of the last events. Ironic. We would be back at home before she took the ice for her short program. By that point, I could have cared less.

We piled into the car for the last long day of driving. I had left an open day between arriving home and returning to work and school so we could unpack and rest. Trust me, that was my motivation for moving on. I really wanted my own bed, different pajamas, and at least eight solid hours of sleep. First, I had twelve solid hours of driving ahead of me. And Mother Nature decided that she might as well make it a little more challenging by throwing a snow storm at me as we crossed the Navajo Reservation.

While only eight years ago, it was light years ago in terms of technology. For a lot of the drive back, I had no cell service. Not that I was really anxious to talk to anyone. Moving my lips was more energy than I wanted to expend. We floated in and out of coverage. Probably about five hours from home, it became clear that Mother was trying to call me. A lot. But, coverage wasn't adequate for us to actually talk. I would get a voice mail, but not be able to return the call. Mother was in her 80's at that point, still not a spring chicken, so I became worried that something was wrong. I finally got my husband, who acknowledged she'd been calling the house too. She had something for us, and was excited for us to see it.

Toward the end of a very long travel day, I got her on the phone. She was clearly excited. She had bought us something and was anxious for us to see it. She wanted to be there when we did. She wouldn't say what it was.

We were so tired and the smell was getting really ripe. There was just no way this trip was going to be pleasant. My head was literally pounding, but I had to push on. I have had bad travel days before and since, the topper being the day Marissa and I pushed our way home after learning of Kelsey's death, but this is fairly close to the top of the list. But finally it came to a close, and I pulled into our garage. I don't remember much after that. I don't know if I unpacked the car that night or not, what the girls did, what my husband said or did. I just know I felt awful.

The next day wasn't much better. I felt like road kill. Road kill that is being consistently run over again and again. I can't remember where the girls were. My guess is they were asleep. I just remember how completely and totally horrible I felt from head to toe. There was not a cell in my body that didn't ache. Yet, Mother was on the phone fairly early, wanting to come over to watch me open the gift. I had been vaguely aware the night before of several boxes and a curio cabinet. That's all I knew.

I don't remember what time Mother came over, but it wasn't late. She could barely contain herself. She was puffed up with anticipation and pride. I felt like if someone stabbed me in the knee, it would feel better. I have a hard time explaining how I felt, but it was Bad. Mother, seemingly, could have cared less. So, reluctantly, I began unpacking the boxes with her watching, eyes twinkling.

What I found, wrapped in newspaper, were bells. China bells, crystal bells, bells with Panda figurines as handles, bells with Norman Rockwall scenes printed on them, some larger, some smaller. Probably a hundred bells in all. Turns out, a couple in the complex Mother lived in found themselves in dire straits and had to sell their collection. The wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and they were being separated, as she was being moved to a separate wing. Mother had bought the collection, lock, stock and barrel, for a little over $1,000.00.

I knew immediately the "gift" was really something Mother really wanted for herself, but had no room for, already busting at the seams with her own motley collection of stuff. so she had bequeathed it on me. I know she had genuinely convinced herself that she was doing something generous for me, but, trust me, on that particular day, it seemed anything but. Eight years later they still grace my living room, but truth be told, with the exception of a few that I find particularly compelling, they will not be long term occupants following Mother's death. I keep them here to please her. They are a constant reminder of Mother's need to possess. Even if she doesn't need it, she will want it.

Mother was a product of a working class Pennsylvania family who came of age during the depression. Growing up during a time when possessions were luxuries, it seems not altogether illogical that she matured to covet material things. The level of which she does, however, has been an issue for some time. At the time I was unpacking the bells, I was a good two years away from finally accepting her condition as a legitimate form of OCD. She's a Hoarder. She's not even the worst case, although she's pretty bad. I get it. I've just never known how to get her past it. The Damn Bells, as they almost immediately became known, are the physical manifestation of it.

One sad thing to note was the discovery of one of the bells that I would guess was the genesis of the couple's collection. It was dated, and was by far the oldest, having an inception date in the 1940's. I think there was a slip attached to it, but somehow I knew it had been a wedding gift. I gave it back to the husband, over Mother's protests. I've wondered if that one wedding gift spurred their lifetime of collecting. If I think too long and hard on that, I feel a little guilty about my willingness to part with them, but I will find them a good and loving home. Just not here.

To this day, Mother has not idea I feel this way about them. Don't give my secret away.

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