As Christmas, 2017, comes near, I am deeply impressed with a memory of my grandfather. Kindly allow something personal – a brief reminiscence for this very moving part of the year. Grandfather, born 1876, was an uncomplicated, quiet, friendly man. He had an eighth-grade education, was a miner in deep coal mines of the region as a young man, owner (with Grandmother) of a village general store in mature / elder years; unassuming, but hard-working. Loved his picture-book home garden, fishing in the local lake for blue-gill, sunfish, cleaning them for the feast to follow. When my brother & I visited them in summers as very small children, he took us on long walks over the town bridge to fields full of wild flowers, ready for little hands to pick and take home to Grandmother. He took great delight in teaching us to stand on our heads – demonstrating precisely how it was done!

His generation, however, was not naive. They lived through both World Wars I & II and the Depression. Like countless others of the time, they demonstrated the depth of character and self-reliance such experiences produce and thrived on faith and the personal friendships of tiny-village life, church, and family.

As the post for today crystallized, these memories came flooding in because Grandfather was the designated “bell-ringer” for church. About 20 minutes or a half hour before the Sunday church service (the precise time escapes me), he invited me to go along when he walked the block from home to church. He opened the front door, and there in the foyer – wrapped around a hook on the wall – was the rope. After freeing it from the wall, he stood in the center of the entry-way, pulling the rope for the single bell in the tower above. Up–down–up–down, over and over, signaling to townsfolk that church would begin shortly. Time to come for Sunday School and the Service!

In my elder years, I have been happily surprised by the opportunity to arrange music for carillon – a much more sophisticated system of bells than this childhood memory relates. One never knows quite how the little folks in their life perceive early experiences. This is the time of year to love and appreciate them all a bit “extra,” and–as this poem makes clear–keep the hope of “peace on earth” flowing.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth, ‘ I said
‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.


Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

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