The ’70s were a simpler time. Oh, the national and global world had issues and conflicts, but the era of instant communication through Facebook and Twitter by which we are instantly informed was decades away. What we knew of the world was local because our world was our neighborhood; and, in that world, we communicated through our relationships – dialogue with family, friends and neighbors. And we had the bell; not “Ma Bell,” but the “cowbell!”
Today, the cowbell might be a euphemism for contemporary tools of instant communication, but in our ’70’s world, it was real…and it was loud! It communicated two words…come home! Seldom out of its reach, the sound of the cowbell wove through streets and backyards (and likely through domiciles of innocent neighbors); wherever we were, we heard, and home we went.
The cowbell was always in the hand of my mother. I do not know it’s origins and how it came into my mom’s possession. Above all, I do not know how it arose from what might have been an interesting curio, to its vaulted position in the neighborhood pantheon; it is legendary…ask any of the neighborhood kids!
Never privy to the behind-the-scene “cowbell conversations” between my mom and dad, I cannot verify the veracity of my facts. These are my recollections, but they begin only after the cowbell’s intended purpose was made clear. My mom will likely say the bell was passed down within her family…Scottish farmer descendents who used the bell to bring the cows home. Did you know the phrase “till the cows come home” has Scottish origins? Now you do. She might also say that it wasn’t a cowbell, but a school bell; but we know better, she used it to bring the “cows” home…no doubt about that!
I’d like to think that my dad spoke up in those pre-use conversations. Think about it…there must have been a moment when my mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee (perhaps a Wednesday), when my mom said, “I’m going to use the school bell (it was a cowbell) to let our kids know it’s time to come home for dinner.” You’re going to what!” My dad was always a man of few words. This was likely followed by my mom presenting a logical line of reasoning on the benefits of the cowbell broadcast system (CBS), but I don’t know what they were…to this day, I cannot think of any. Maybe my dad couldn’t whistle! More coffee?
Immersed in its sound…clear in its purpose. Everyone knew, the sound of the cowbell meant coordinated action…by me, my siblings, and my friends…we were in it together. Earlier, I stated that we were seldom out of its reach, but there were times when we were, and this is where the “Pavlov’s Dog” effect on the neighborhood kids had its purpose. Far from home, we would hear scuttlebutt like, “Andy’s sister heard from Mrs. Ross that she heard the cowbell about half an hour ago.” Yikes!!
We all eventually got the message; by direct audio contact or through the CBS. I have three siblings. We are all different. But when the bell tolled, we were singular in our purpose. Get home by any means necessary!
There was the occasional ribbing from our peers. That was expected…our mom was ringing a cowbell for God’s sake. But as I have said, life and it’s interactions build character.
However, I cannot imagine a world today where a mother stands on her front stoop and rings a cowbell to bring the kids home. They’re likely not outside, but already home, in the basement, playing video games. Eating dinner together as a family is also no longer the norm. Looking back, for those times, the ’70s, the cowbell was genius. It brought us together as a family. Thanks Mom! We are all the better for it. A wise man (Christopher Walken) once said in a famous Saturday Night Live skit, “We need more cowbell!” Yes, Mr. Walken, we do!