by Dawn Uebelhart
I often get emails from people who want to come see the bells in St. Paul's tower, but recently I received an email that was a little different. A mom wrote me saying that her 3-year-old son had a fascination with all types of bells. They were in Houston while her son was receiving treatments in the Med Center and wanted to come visit. I emailed her back with basic information about change ringing and our tower, but never heard back which made me wonder if plans may have changed and we wouldn't be seeing them.
To our wonderful surprise, during weekly rehearsal, the mom, her 3-year-old son who was holding a cowbell, the boy's grandmother and his uncle all came up to the bell tower ringing room. I watched the hearts of the ringers melt as we all saw how excited the little boy was to see the big bells in action.
We rang a bit, and then showed him a little wooden model of the bells, showing how you pulled the rope and the bell wheel went around in a circle making the bell ring. Mom said that they had "done their homework" and read up on our type of bell tower. We rang some more for them and asked the boy if he would like to pull one of the ropes to a bell that was in the down position (a safe position for beginners/novices). He said no, that it scared him. We went ahead and rang some more.
We then took a break while a few St. Paul's ringers took the family all the way up to the belfry to see the actual bells. (You can only see the ropes coming down through the ceiling in our ringing room.) There was much "oohing and ahhing" as he saw the actual big bells.
Coming back down to the ringing room, Mom asked if they could stay a while longer. I said to please, stay as long as they liked. We rang a bit more and then convinced the little boy that it was ok to pull on the "safe" rope. With a little help from Mom and one of our ringers, he was able to make the bell chime. Everyone was delighted.
The grandmother came up to me and thanked us for opening up the tower for them. She said that today had been his last treatment before going back home and they had stayed the extra night just to come to the bell tower. They were leaving in the morning to head home, halfway across the U.S.
After several more thank yous and heart-felt goodbyes, they began to make their exit from the tower. Just before they left, one of our ringers noticed they had forgotten the boy's cowbell he had brought up earlier. With cowbell in hand, they thanked us again and left for home.
Moments like these make me thankful that St. Paul's is a cathedral for the city.