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Selection 27 of

A Distant Bell

by Nancy Clark

He was a solitary, time-worn little man, perhaps from an "old country." He trudged the sidewalks with a lurching step, bent under his heavy load. But he came heralded by a bell.

We would hear it first from far off--the clear, steady call of the scissors grinder's brass hand bell, swinging, ringing as he came.

Memories of sounds stay with us like snapshots in an album. Huge booms that punctuated my early childhood days were explained as "That's blastin' from the sand pits," where local industry mined white "silica" sand to make automobile glass. Daily, too, the huff and breathy scream of the steam engine carried over the four-block distance to our house, along with its own loud bell--a harsh, "make way" kind of clanging.

But the scissors grinder's bell came close to us, right down the street, in a time when housewives were in their houses. That sound was their call to gather dulled scissors and knives and come to the porch to wave him down.

Our scissors grinder would slip his arms from the straps that held the wooden contraption on his back, sling it to the ground and proceed to set up his stand and wheel right on the sidewalk. He sat on one end of the stand. A tin cup affixed above the stone let water drip down through a tiny hole in its base. Then, with youngsters gathered for the event, he would begin pumping his foot on the pedal, making the whetstone revolve and whir.

We little ones stood wide-eyed and barefoot on the grass, watching sparks spit brightly off the whetstone as his stubby fingers pressed a blade to the wheel. He'd eye the sharpened edge and wipe it clean with a cloth.

He smiled a bit, called each lady "missus," named his price, and muttered his thanks from beneath a nod. Perhaps for want of better English, he spoke no more than that. Grandmother was always ready with coins from her apron pocket. When each lady's work was done, he'd quickly disassemble his stand and load his back. With bell in rhythm again, he'd plod off down the sidewalk.

As a child I wondered: What was his name? Where did he go at night?

As a woman, now having reached about his length of years, I wonder at never having felt a need to sharpen a knife or a scissors. But more to the point, today any "intrusion" to offer services at home is most often unwelcome. No longer do we look forward to a visit from a Fuller Brush man or listen for the jingle of a Good Humor truck. And certainly we rage at telemarketers ringing our phones.

But I think it would be fine to somehow hear a scissors grinder's bell once again. After some forty years of housekeeping, I'm sure my several pairs of scissors could use a sharpening.


Selection 27 of

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Copyright © 2003 by Nancy Clark. All rights reserved.