“I’ve got you something,” said Edge, who had a reputation for being generous and spontaneous, especially with friends.
The “something” he unveiled was a large cast-iron church bell. “It’s a natural,” Edge told them. “A bell for the Bells. Right?”
As they were loading the antique in their car for the trip back home to the Lupton community, just outside of Nauvoo, he sketched out for them a little of the gift’s history.
“It started as a church bell,” recalls Adell, who’s now 85. “But when the church burned, the bell was passed down to Don’s grandparents. They used it for many years on their farm, to call workers in for mealtime.”
Back in Lupton, the Bells built a metal support for the bell alongside their front driveway. But hanging it was a bit more involved than they’d bargained for.
“I remember it took four men to put it up,” says Mrs. Bell’s son-in-law, Rhodney Freeman. “And they had a struggle with it. I’m betting the bell weighs 400 pounds, easy.”
For months the bell remained a quiet conversation piece, and the Bells found that it had a bonus advantage. Now, giving directions to their house was as simple as, “It’s the place with the big bell in the yard.”
But that was before a visit from another old friend, a Chicago native named Joe Ferruzza. He got out of his car, went straight to the bell, and gave it a hearty ring.
“I just thought I’d announce my arrival,” he explained with a grin. The tradition quickly caught on.
Nieces and nephews coming home from college gave the bell a symbolic clang, recalls Nancy Trucks of Birmingham, one of the Bells’ five daughters: “Before long, relatives from all over would announce their arrival by officially ringing the bell. My dad loved it. We all did.”
And this was no small, chiming musical bell of the type a bell choir would use.
“If you hit it just right, you could hear it all the way to the big curve on the Mount Zion Loop, here. It would go half a mile or better. I remember Joe could tap it just lightly, and here inside the house it felt like we were standing next to it. Even the donger inside it was a big, heavy thing. It was a monster bell. It was that good.”
But a few weeks ago, the family’s bell-ringing tradition went silent overnight. The monster bell disappeared on the evening of Thanksgiving.
“We traveled for Thanksgiving,” Freeman says. “It was the first time we’d all been gone from the house here in...forever. And apparently somebody noticed that night that our truck and cars were gone, and they just pulled up in the yard and took it. I was out walking Friday around mid-morning and looked up and it wasn’t there. No bell. It’s just the emptiest feeling you can imagine.”
The feeling was so empty he dreaded to pass the news along to the rest of the family.
“Rhodney couldn’t bring himself to tell us, when we came in,” Adell remembers. “He didn’t tell us until the next day that it was missing. All these years, we’ve never had anything stolen. We’ve just been lucky.”
On the dining room table is a color enlargement of the bell in its heyday, in spring-like sunshine with a burst of green grass behind.
“We cultivated that piece of land for years,” Adell says, pointing to it. “We grew corn and peas, tomatoes, watermelons. Everybody got so tired of shelling peas.”
She laughs. “I finally got smart and found somebody with a machine so we could have them shelled.”
Alfred started his career as an underground miner at Concord, but soon gravitated toward working on heavy equipment. Then, with retirement in view, he died in 1981 at the untimely age of 56.
“You get mad,” Adell sums it up. “You get mad because a person’s supposed to have a longer life than that.”
While the theft of the bell remains a mystery, one fact is clear: it was no spur-of-the-moment prank.
“It would almost have to be somebody with a mechanic’s truck, or something with a crane arm to pluck it up and set it in the back of a truck,” Freeman believes. “There were no footprints, no rocks disturbed. Maybe it was just a few people with a bar and a chain, but that way would have really been a struggle.”
What the thieves’ motive might have been is another puzzle. “I’ve been to most of the pawn shops and left pictures of it,” says Freeman, “but we haven’t heard anything yet. I’m wondering if somebody thought, as big and solid as it is, they could sell it for the scrap metal. That would be such a waste.”
”It’s heartbreaking to lose something you’ve enjoyed for 50 years,” Adell says.
Ideally, she and Freeman say, they have hope that when word about the theft gets around, someone will notice a large bell in a shop or a neighbor’s garage and realize who it belongs to.
“One thing that’s made this so hard,” says Nancy Trucks, “is that Lupton is a quiet community where everybody’s your neighbor and everybody looks out for one another. We’re asking anybody with knowledge about the bell to return it, with no questions asked. All will be forgiven.”
If that route doesn’t pan out, according to Freeman, they’ll probably look, eventually, at replacing the bell.
“We’re thinking about it. If we can’t get the same one back, we should at least find something similar. Something to put out there and fill that void. With all the memories, it’s kind of like a hole in your heart.”
Dale Short’s e-mail address is email@example.com.