Monday, April 4, 2011
Part 50: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Dong! Dong! Dong!
For four long years I would jerk awake to the sound of the Chapel bells pealing loudly every Sunday morning beginning at 6:00 a.m., calling the staff and their families to the early morning service.
Donggggg! ....... The Kalinga Quasimodo would wait for the last echo to fade away, allowing you to drift off to sleep again, before yanking the rope again.
Dong! Dong! This would continue on for a long miserable hour, then a blissful reprieve of an hour and half of silence before the bells would begin ringing again.
Dong! ........ Dong! Dong! now ringing to call parishioners to the second service of the morning. By then most of us had resigned ourselves to the fact that our sleep was over and got up.
Dong!.... Dong! Dong!
For four long years I listened to the complaints and threats about the Chapel bell and how they would resolve the problem - everything from placing a roll of toilet paper over the clapper to stealing the entire bell! Anyone trying to sleep in on Sundays had a tough time of it. There was no escaping it, the bells could be plainly heard everywhere on campus, the sound bouncing and echoing off the hills and buildings. The boys had it worse than the girls, as our dorms were situated closest to the Chapel.
My first two years in my room below the Infirmary it wasn't too bad, our dorm parents made us younger kids get up anyway and go to breakfast every Sunday at 7:00. Fresh fruit, juice, pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried eggs and sometimes cheese omelets. Sunday morning breakfasts were the best. But, for the upper classmen trying to sleep in, it really must have been hell, especially for the boys in Weiser Hall, directly across from the Chapel.
Dong! ........ Dong! Dong!
We were not the first, decades of boarding students had their dreams rudely interrupted by the loud clanging. Generations of boarders plotted and conspired against this usurper of their Sunday morning slumbers. It was something that unified and joined us together, our mutual dislike for the Chapel Bell.
Now in my fifth year at Brent, ensconced with all the male boarders in the New Boys Dorm, I became more acutely aware of that damn bell. Situated almost parallel with the Chapel, I could clearly see the bell tower from my bedroom window. I tried stuffing cotton balls in my ears, I learned to sleep with a pillow over my head, turned the radio on in an attempt to drown out the noise. Nothing worked. Weekly I listened to this new batch of boarders bitching about the bell. Bleary eyed, they would sit on the student lounge steps cursing bell and bell ringer. Schemes and plans, variations of which I had heard a thousand times before spewed from their lips.
One Saturday afternoon, in the spring 1976, I decided enough was enough. I was done with just cussing about it.
If you hate it so much why don't you guys do something about it?
There were some non-committal responses and mutterings.
Fine. I'll do something about it.
Leaping to my feet I pointed to Andy McMullen and another kid.
You guys come with me.
Sending one to get a roll of toilet paper, Andy and I scrounged up a ladder. Heart pounding, with the two kids holding the ladder I climbed up into the bell tower. Once up there I realized that the toilet paper roll idea would not work. What to do. Then looking at the knot an idea popped into my head. Carefully reaching up I leaned forward and untied the rope from the bell - just enough to disable the bell, but not enough for the rope to fall. Success!
The following morning was blissfully sweet, not one ring from the hated chapel bell. Silence. Blessed Silence. For the first time in almost five years I got to sleep in. Some who claimed to be awake swore they heard a low clunk as the clapper vainly tried to strike the bell. By supper that night the word had spread amongst the boarders. We were instant heroes!
On Monday morning, however, for the second time that school year I was called into the Headmaster's office. Someone had seen us carrying the ladder. Teachers were outraged. Some wanted us expelled, others wanted us suspended for a month. Dr Ralph Rodriguez was in charge and asked us for a description of our shenanigans. I told him the whole story in vivid detail, and he laughed when I was done. Shaking his head he said "Boys, I know it was just a silly prank, but the staff is very irate about the whole thing and are screaming for your blood! I am going to have to do something. I am considering suspending you from school for two weeks."
Vaguely I could see that it had less to do with the Chapel Bell and more to do with the general labor situation at Brent and the new generation of "disrespectful" students. They needed an outlet for their frustrations and we were it. Better than being expelled, but still bad news. Gathering up my courage I spoke up.
But Sir, just last week Dick was caught with alcohol in his room and he was only campused for a month.
Dr Ralph swiveled in his chair looking out the window across the campus. His desk clock ticking loudly, we waited in silence awaiting our sentence. Finally, he turned back with a big smile on his face.
"Ok. Two weeks campused, woodpile duty. Apologize to the staff. That's my final decision."
It was a wonderful world.