Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I should call this story “The Lost School Bell” because it wasn’t really lost, I just didn’t know where it was. It was not lost to those who had it. It’s kind of like when I hit my golf ball out into the rough, which I do a lot, and when we can’t find it we call it a lost ball. But then inevitably someone else comes along and finds that ball and uses it and it becomes a stolen ball to me and a found ball to that person, but it’s no longer lost in the technical sense. The word lost fascinates me, for example, someone will say, ‘Ok, I’m lost’ but they really mean they don’t understand. People say that to me a lot when I’m trying to explain something—like now—but I’ll get back to the bell in a minute.
My daughter lost a book she was reading and I told her, ‘don’t worry, we’ll find it in the last place we look.’ And, of course, we did because once you find something lost you always find it in the last place you look because you quit looking once it’s found. She was impressed with my insight, but then she was seven.
The bell was lost in the sense that we didn’t know where it was. But, we weren’t looking for it, in fact, we had forgotten about it. Mom had it when we were young and we rang it at Christmas or whenever we were bored. We would lose interest, until a friend would discover it and ring it, like kids are programed to do. Generally it just sat on the piano. We weren’t interested in the story of why Mom had the bell in the first place. I’m not certain I ever knew why Mom had the bell, but I can make an educated guess.
In 1953, I was a first grader in the one room school house known as Living Springs School located about one mile north of the old Living Springs stage stop in Eastern Adams County. Our teacher, Mrs. Parker, rang the bell in the morning when it was time for class to begin, at the end of recess and after the lunch period, like all the teachers before her back to 1891, the year the school was built.
My memory of the bell itself is non-existent, but I can still remember the sound of the bell clanging, calling us back to the building from wherever we were enjoying our few moments of delicious freedom from the confines of those four walls. I was not an adventurous boy but, curious, kind of a day dreamer. One of those boys who actually enjoyed learning, enjoyed listening to Mrs. Parker, and studying the Dick and Jane first grade reader. I was the only student in the first grade. The others, maybe ten in all, ranged up to the eighth grade.
The bell has a history but we don’t know what it is. At least I don’t. Maybe someone else does because a good many of the students who were there in 1953 are still alive. Mrs. Parker is still alive, she’s 95 years old. I sent a letter to her son, Howell, and asked if they know anything about the bell. Maybe it was there when she became the teacher, maybe it was the first bell ever used in that school back in 1891.
I believe that Mrs. Parker gave the bell to Mom in 1954 when the school was closed. Mom was alone on our homestead with 5 small children. I can picture Mrs. Parker saying “here, you use this to call those boys home when you need them.” Mom was a very sentimental person and the bell went with us when we moved to Bennett in 1957.
The school house was later moved into Strasburg to become a part of Comanche Crossing Museum. I include a picture of me peering in the window of the building, sometime in 2005, looking for some answers or maybe looking for long lost ghosts of my past, but I didn’t find any—answers or ghosts.
Actually, I don’t include the picture because I can’t find it. I know it is in this machine somewhere but I have been rummaging around for 45 minutes and can’t find it. So picture a bright sunny day in Strasburg with me, left hand shading my eyes, as I peer in the front door. I am wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt that says, ‘Who are these children and why are they calling me Grandpa?’
Maybe the ghosts stayed out at the school site 12 miles south on Headlight Road some half-mile from our homestead. I don’t think so though, because I went out there and looked. I even climbed the hill to Mrs. Parker’s old home site but the house is gone, all that’s left is the foundation and some detritus from the passing years. I stood there a long time but didn’t see anything unusual. I heard the wind blowing in the trees and saw some cattle grazing in the pasture to the east. I’m sure there are ghosts out there, it seems like the kind of place they would go. Maybe some of the soldiers from World War I or II, boys who had taken classes in the Living Springs one room school house, then marched out to war. Maybe they listened to the sound of that same bell.
Anyway, back to the misplaced bell. I was married to Cathy in 1971, she was a school teacher I met in Bennett when I came back from college. My sister had written to tell me about her, so I came home to see for myself.
Mom was very fond of Cathy, as was I, and Mom decided, somewhere along the line, to give the bell to Cathy. I don’t remember any of that. It might have been a secret transaction, but I can’t imagine why. Cathy and I were married for about 20 years and when we divorced, Cathy retained possession of the bell, not realizing the significance it had for me. Actually, it didn’t have any significance for me because I had forgotten about it, but I think it makes the story more interesting if I say that it was a very important part of my life and in a way it was, but I just didn’t realize that until recently.
Anyway, I wrote a book called ‘What is a Hero’ and in that book, I describe scenes that occurred in the Living Springs School back in 1953. And the story gets better because when we had the book launch for ‘What is a Hero’, who shows up but 95 year old Mrs. Parker and a newspaper reporter who created all kinds of excitement by putting pictures and a story in the newspaper about that encounter. You can read the article at http://livingspringspublishers.com/index.php/i-70-scout-article/:
The story got back to Cathy and she read my book and realized that the bell she had in her possession was the very bell from the Living Springs School. She knew this because Mom had told her the bell came from an old school that had a great deal of meaning to her because I had been a student there when my father, Henry, was killed in a car accident. Mrs. Parker was the person, back in 1953, who told me about my father dying. Cathy is also a sentimental person and felt that the bell should be returned to its roots.
When I was in Austin visiting my children last month, June 2017, Cathy gave the bell to me. She suggested that it be placed in the old school building that is now a museum. And so it has been. The bell has journeyed full circle and is now found and back in its rightful home. Maybe some child will pick it up and clang it calling back all those children who, for 60 years, began their education in a one-room Colorado schoolhouse, now a museum. That thought kind of gives me comfort.
After August 4th the bell will have been returned, you can visit the school and see other memorabilia of the Eastern Plains at The Comanche Crossing Museum in Strasburg, CO.
If anyone reading this story knows more about the bell or has a relevant story, please let us know about it at Livingspringspublishers.com
HENRY E. PEAVLER with JACQUELINE VERYLE PEAVLER