Monday, February 18, 2013


When my husband hears bells, he comes running! It’s one of the first lessons he learned when he met my family. “Go to the bell! Ask what needs done,” my Aunt told him. And he did!

In my family the women gather in the living room while the men congregate in the kitchen – why not? The men are going to prepare and serve dinner so they belong in the kitchen! The men always look after us, keeping coffee fresh, serving drinks, lighting cigarettes, the usual things. We love being served, and the guys love serving. The problem was that we didn't want to yell for service. And we certainly don’t want to be constantly interrupted to see if we need something or, worse yet, have one of the men hovering around just outside our conversation, waiting to be called. NO, this just doesn't work. We don't have privacy, and the men waste time.

My Aunt came up with a solution. She got the idea from a visit to an old Edwardian mansion, now a museum. The wall of the servants’ quarters had lights, one for each room in the house. When one lit, a servant quickly went to see what was needed. What a great idea!  But instead of switches and lights, my Aunt suggested bells. Her sisters loved the idea! The bells were bought, the men trained, and it works like a charm. The bells have been ringing – and the men have been running – ever since!

If one of the women needs something, she picks up the bell and rings it. A man comes, serving tray in hand and politely asks, “How may I serve you ladies?” It’s an opportunity for him not only to serve the one who rang the bell, but also to see what the other women want. While he's serving, the women’s rules are that he gather up glasses, cups, and ashtrays at the same time. He's more efficient, and it makes for a minimum of interruptions.

Like everything, we have “house rules” around “the bells”:

  • When the bell rings, he sets everything else aside; the bells are his priority! ALWAYS!
  • Men should be 100% responsive while making a minimum of trips; he must do as much as possible each time he is summoned.
  • If a group of men is in the house, only one should answer the bells but all must take turns answering.
  • A tray is mandatory; everything is served from and removed on a tray.
  • When responding, a man should wait to be acknowledged; he is NEVER to interrupt a conversation.
  • Men should not comment or attempt to engage in conversation when answering a bell. Men are there to serve, not socialize; OK, I’ll say it again, MEN SHOULD SHUT UP!
  • Politeness and deference are the rule; “Ladies, how may I be of service,” “Yes, Madame,” “Yes, Ma’am”!
  • Women should expect to be served, so use of “please” and “thank you” is not needed.

The bells have become a family tradition, and, like a groom getting an apron – or many of them – the bride receives at least one bell; by the time she’s at the altar, she knows what it’s for!

The bells aren’t just for serving at dinner parties. If Mom sees something that needs to be cleaned up, for example, she’ll ring a bell and summon Dennis to take care of it. We have bells in every room.

We use bells at home whether we have guests or not. The bells let everyone know who's in charge and who's not! When women friends have come around, they have learned to love the idea, and a few of them now have bells in their homes.

And bells aren’t just for women. Most of the men in the family have one, but the purpose of a man's bell is, of course, very different. A man isn't going to be served – EVER! Instead he will leave his bell with a woman or group of women he wants to serve. Dennis does this every day with my Mother. When he comes home, he takes her his bell and a mixed drink – on a tray of course – and presents them, telling her he’s now at her service. She’ll take full advantage!