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So the other day, I was listening to the humorous country song, “Double XL.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the chorus goes, “Don’t call me on the phone, just ring my dinner bell,” and it got me thinking. Did other families use a dinner bell too?

Now, I know for certain that not everyone is familiar with the concept of the dinner bell, so I’ll explain. When I was growing up, my family always ate dinner together. After work or school, we’d all come home and do our own things, usually in separate areas of the house. For example, my dad liked to “study the insides of his eyelids” for awhile before dinner, a solo activity which effectively removed him, not just from the room, but from the waking world.

So, ever one for efficiency, my mom found a way to bring us all together when the meal was ready, using a minimum of effort. She rang a bell.

To be honest, I’m not sure where we picked this tradition up. I have a vague recollection of it being something my aunt (my mom’s sister) started doing, and heavens only know where she picked it up, because I don’t think they learned it from their mom, my oma.
I’m not certain where the bell came from either. All I know is that it appeared around the same time as this tradition started, and the pretty little silver thing sat atop the stove for the vast majority of my childhood.


Imagine this silver and much less deluxe. That was our dinner bell.

At any rate, when the bell was rung, the family would come running. Or rather, my sister and I would come running. My dad would typically require a wee bit more coaxing, as studying the inside of one’s eyelids typically puts one in a rather meditative (and unconscious) state.

Talk about a Pavlovian response.

Pavlov's family

Pavlov’s family.

Now, there is a reason why I know not all families summoned their collective to dinner with a tinny little ringing. One evening we had company over: friends of the family who had kids of their own. As such, all us kids were confined downstairs to the rec room, where we could be as noisy as we liked (and having all been kids at some point, we all know how noisy that is). Meanwhile, the parents enjoyed peace upstairs, with my mom making dinner while socializing with the female half of our company. Being the inquisitive sort, our family friend spied the shiny bell atop the stove and, before my mom could stop her, she picked it up.

Now, I don’t even believe that she fully rang the bell, but being hungry children, well-tuned to the sound of the dinner bell, one half-hearted little ding was all it took. My sister and I froze in the middle of the boardgame (I think it was Mousetrap), and a few words to the other two kids was all it took before all four of us were rushing up the stairs.

I’m quite sure that my mom’s friend didn’t expect that picking up a bell off the stove would elicit such a reaction. For before my mom had a chance to explain, a rumbling thunder of wildly uncoordinated children stampeded up the stairs and boiled into the kitchen. Someone less optimistic that my mom’s guest likely would have thought she had heralded an apocalypse (or at least an earthquake) by the sudden racket we enthusiastically made in our prompt arrival to… no food. I remember we kids were a little put out that dinner wasn’t actually ready yet, but my mom’s friend got over her surprise quickly and had a good laugh about it.

So help me out, folks. Is there anyone else out there whose family used a dinner bell? I’m dying to know – please comment with your answer!