School Bell

by Heather Fayle Goddard from London, ON
Sep 14, 13

I was browsing in an antique store one day when I saw a brass bell that took me right back to the late 50s when I lived in Montreal. I attended a strict all-girls school, run by nuns. Rules and discipline were the name of the game back then and everyone knew that not following the rules brought serious consequences.

Every morning we would walk to school and play with our friends in the yard. Until 8:25 a.m. When Mother Superior would appear at the door of the vestibule with her bell in one hand while she clutched the ringer with the other. She would slowly glance around the schoolyard and then choose the right moment to ring the bell ONCE. The signal for us to immediately stop what we were doing and wait for the second ring. No one could move until the command of the second bell released us - to go swiftly and silently to our designated area and line up alphabetically by grade.

We loved the invitation of the first bell because it allowed us to freeze dramatically in the midst of skipping, dodge ball or hop scotch. We would wiggle on one foot until Mother Superior was satisfied, until she gave us our marching orders with the second bell.

The bell intrigued me. And I wanted to ring it.

But Mother Superior was the only one who did that. 

As luck would have it, the opportunity presented itself one day. I lived close to the school and went home for lunch. One day I arrived back at school late. Everyone had already gone into class. No one else was around. I walked into the vestibule and there was the bell perched on the radiator. I didn’t know what “Carpe diem” meant back then but I knew how to seize the moment. It was only as my arm was in full motion that it occurred to me that the nuns could hear what I was doing.

I quickly returned the bell to its home and ran up the stairs toward my classroom. As I neared the top step I saw the familiar flow of the acres of black material that covered Mother Superior. As I glanced up she greeted me with an outstretched arm. It was pointing to her office. I got the strap.

It probably sounds harsh now but those were the rules of the day. Everything had a “should” attached to it and all the “shoulds” had to be obeyed. You should always do your homework. You should always be punctual, polite, reverent and above all obedient. You should not disobey. And you should definitely not ring the bell.

I never rang it again. Though I longed to.

And the memory of that late lunch and those days brought a smile to my entire being as I stood in that antique store and bought the brass bell.

It has a place of honour on the table in my entrance. I ring it whenever I want.