Elko Bells

January 1, 2010

I remember holding my Dad’s hand as we walked up to the Elko, NV convention center.  The building seemed monstrous to me, sticking out as a piece of grand architecture amidst the rural town.  It was only for special occasions that I went to the convention center, and this was no exception.  The once neutral walls of the lobby were now decked out with green and red and gold and silver.  Makeshift stands sold hot cocoa and cookies, a jolly Santa Clause lookalike handed out candy canes. 

As we moved into one of the rooms that branched off from the lobby, I kept close to my Dad and let my eyes wander.  In this place Christmas was a glittery, bustling, gleeful state.  Even though the main point of this Christmas extravaganza was to sell items, capitalism was an unrepresented mentality.  If Scrooge, in his pre-ghost of Christmas future self, had entered this place, he would have been covered with green and red and glitter and sipping a hot drink before the phrase, “Bah, humbug!” was even dancing about in his brain.  This event was a long awaited sigh of relief for a population who never took the day off.

Amid all the trinkets and sweets for sale I walked with my Dad, none of them catching my interest except momentarily.  We walked pasts booths selling divinity candy, booths selling Christmas themed singing fish (the kind that look like they have been mounted on a board,)  and booths selling handmade rocking chairs.  Suddenly I saw a group of children huddled around a table with an adult supervising as they dipped something into a vessel.  Instantly I needed to know what was going on.  Upon walking over my Dad and I discovered the children were making ornaments, and I knew what I wanted to take home.

Patiently I waited my turn, each child before me seeming to take longer and longer.  I pondered which bare ceramic ornament I wanted to decorate, what colors of paint I wanted to use, if I should pick the gold ribbon or the silver ribbon; all valid concerns as I stood restlessly in line.  Then, finally, it was my turn.  I picked a small figure of two ringing bells, held together by a bow and decorated with holly leaves.  Clutching the ornament in my hand I listened carefully to instructions for dipping the figure in different pots of watery paint to get my desired effect.  I threaded a short stick through the gold loop on top of the ornament and began work on my masterpiece.

Slowly I lowered the ornament into the first pot of paint.  The watery paint quickly covered the bells and I swirled it around, only once, though; I didn’t want the pink to be overwhelming.  With more confidence I slid the ornament into a different pot of paint, but as with the first time, I extracted it quickly because I didn’t want the blue to be too dark.  Now I surveyed my work so far; the color was very light, pink on one side and blue on the other…with a gently muddled effect in the center.  This was my base.  Next I moved in front of the dark teal paint.  Hesitantly, I dipped the bottom of the ornament in at an angle and held it steady for an intense pigment, then gently swirled it around for lighter color.  I observed my work again and decided to go in one more time.  For this finishing touch, I chose an ashy purple.  With the assuredness of an old hand in the ornament dipping business, I dipped and lifted, dipped and lifted, until the purple swathed the bow and rims of the bells.  Now, I was finished….until I heard the owner of the booth tell my Dad about a glitter powder that would make the ornament shimmer.  Shimmer!  As a self respecting little girl I couldn’t walk away unless my ornament shimmered!  Breathlessly I watched as my dripping ornament was festooned with what looked to me like fairy dust.  Then, all of a sudden, it was done.  My ornament was hung to dry on a rack next to other, more ordinary, ornaments.  My Dad and I walked away to partake in the Christmas festivities one last time.

I couldn’t wait to return; I didn’t quite trust the strangers who were watching my ornament.  Walking on my tiptoes I urged my Dad to hurry up, dragging him back to the little table to claim my possession.  I could pick it out from across the room, I was sure, lined up next to the other ornaments, because my ornament was special.  It shimmered in the light!  The colors seemed to intertwine and meld together in all the right places; I could almost hear the bells ringing!  Then, in a moment, my Dad had paid for my trinket and it was enclosed securely in a box I held in my hands.  Now I walked carefully, with importance and pride.  Once I was buckled up in the van, I opened the box and held my ornament.  It was beautiful and I loved it.  All of the sights and sounds of the day, as well as the love of my family, and my own pent up anticipation of Christmas seemed to be wrapped up in my very small parcel. 

Since then I have received, and even created, many ornaments.  Some are carved figurines, one is an Asian inspired tassel, most would be considered more beautiful or well made than my Elko bells.  Yet every year I find a place for my glittery bells on our tree and get a little misty eyed.  Objectively the bells are repeatable; they were cast from a generic mold and sold in large amounts, but what I still love about the bells is that in my heart, I made them.  I gave them character and life, and made them shimmer, too!  The bells remind me of a time when life was simpler and there were few distractions from my true priorities of family and faith.  They remind me of childhood joy and innocence.  Each year that I take them from our overflowing box of ornaments, I feel as if I am meeting an old friend and saying, “Hello, it’s nice to see you again!  I see that we’ve made it safely through another year.”

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