Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 4, 2012

MARK MAYNARD: Time on the other side of the bell

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — I spent part of a sun-splashed afternoon Monday as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army in front of Walmart on Riverhill.

It was my first experience on the other side of the bell and, I’ll have to say, it was quite enjoyable.

Maybe it was good to be out of the office for an hour with the temperatures touching 70 degrees — that certainly didn’t hurt.

My bell-ringing partner, Ted Miller, made it just in time after putting in 18 holes of golf at The Oaks. He was worried he was going to be late so his score may have suffered (of course, it may have suffered for other reasons, too). I told him to have fun on the course.

“I’ve got this,” I said.

But he was Ready Teddy when our appointed time came around at 1 p.m. And, truth is, it was nice having him around. He’s a veteran at this bell-ringing business and he must have had conversations with two dozen folks (not that I was Mr. Silent).

I took the bell handoff from Ashland City Commissioner Larry Brown, another seasoned ringer who does a lot for the community outside of his “official” capacity.

It didn’t take long before visitors to Walmart were stuffing the little red kettle with $1 bills (and more). They were all so cheerful. It was a true display of Christmas joy.

There were literally hundreds who came in and out of Walmart during the hour that Ted and I rang the bells. We were both amazed at the sheer volume. And it was kind of interesting being on this side of the ringing. How many times have we passed by the red kettle feeling a little bit guilty for not putting in something?

Guilty as charged.

The truth of it is, for a lot of us, we don’t carry cash.

Maybe the Salvation Army should look into putting in an ATM. I’m joking, of course, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has walked by the kettle feeling guilty because I literally didn’t have anything on me to give.

As we were diligently ringing, Maj. Darrell Kingsbury of the Salvation Army came to our station in full uniform. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to salute or what. He did get a few stares. If you haven’t met the major and his wife, make some time to do it. They are truly a gracious and God-fearing couple who understand their role in this Christian project.

I hear he plays a mean horn, too, although I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to him. We chatted for a few minutes with the Major — still ringing our bells — while more and more of our generous community dropped money in the kettle. Some of those who stuffed in a dollar may not have had much more to their name, yet they gave. That’s what you do to make your community a better place.

Ashland has always been a giving community and the leaders of our communities certainly lead by example.

Several friends, co-workers and some readers:

“Are you Mark Maynard?”

“Who’s asking?”

“Oh, I’ve seen your picture in the paper. I love what you write!”

“Well, then yes, that’s me!”

I’m sure this wasn’t a true taste of what many bell ringers go through during the Christmas season. My first shift was more like a spring day.

I know from experience with other Salvation Army bell ringers to look everybody in the eye and wish them a “Merry Christmas!” I’ve been on the other side of that as well. Sometimes you look away or watch your feet because you don’t have any change. You can’t bare to look. It’s OK, it really is. What I learned is we’re not there to judge anybody. And if you feel that guilty, then write a check to the Salvation Army when you go home. The red kettles aren’t the only place they collect money.

We were stationed around the soft drink machines on Monday and one particular woman was having trouble getting them to work. She went to two different machines before finally giving up. Then she stuffed her pop money in our red kettle.

“I guess I didn’t need a soft drink anyway,” she said.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. Just saying.

It was around the turn of the 20th century that the idea was born to use the kettle for collecting funds to feed the hungry.

In 1891, Capt. Joseph McFee wanted to help the poor people in San Francisco but he didn’t know where to get funding for his project. He remembered, during his early days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, seeing a large kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” where passengers of boats that docked at Stage Landing tossed coins to help the poor.

The following day, Capt. McFee placed a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing, beside the pot was a sign that read “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He was able to collect enough donations to have a Christmas dinner for the poor people.

His idea spread and, in 1897, a nationwide effort was able to fund 150,000 Christmas dinners for the poor. In 1901, donations from New York city funded a sit-down dinner at Madison Square Garden.

Today, you’ll find bell ringers and red kettles at many stores and malls during the Christmas season.

Here’s what you can take to the bank: The money collected is put to good use.

Drop in some change the next time you pass by one of those bell ringers.

You’ll be glad you did.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.