The small, red bell has a 2-inch mouth and a wooden handle.
Although it is not loud and clanging, like a dinner bell, its tiny voice can be heard across the parking lot. It is as if it could be a jingle from Santa’s sleigh, rising over the tops of minivans and shopping carts.
There is no guesswork when you park and open your car door. That familiar sound means there is a red kettle in close range.
Before you see it, you hear it. Like Pavlov’s reindeer, it is your cue to reach in your pockets and slide your fingers past the car keys and cell phone for a token of giving.
It is the soundtrack of the season, the ring tone of every Christmas. If December came and left without a Salvation Army bell greeting us at grocery stores and shopping centers, we would wonder if the holidays had skipped town.
Earlier this week, I volunteered for a two-hour shift as a bell ringer at the Kroger on Forsyth Road. (I spent the final leg of my Monday afternoon next to a store called Tuesday Morning.)
It was not my first experience standing guard beside the sturdy red kettle that has become an icon for holiday giving. In fact, it was 15 years ago this week when I made my debut.
I have been an “Ed Ringer” almost every year since. Guess I am, pardon the pun, an old “hand” by now.
Been there. Done that. Worn the red apron.
I stood outside the door between the kiln-dried firewood, a stack of wild bird seed and a few Fraser fir Christmas trees. The afternoon was still comfortable when I started ringing at 4 p.m. There was a chill in the air when my shift ended at 6.
A few days ago, I read a news story about a Salvation Army major from California. Marcelino “Butch” Soriano recently set the record for 150 straight hours of bell ringing in honor of the Salvation Army’s 150 years in existence.
I may have similar intentions, but not nearly the same stamina. My feet hurt after two hours. At an average of 122 steady shakes per minute, I calculated I had about 14,640 rings in my wrist before my battery ran out. (OK. I probably need to subtract a few rings since I paused to shake a lot of hands and hug a lot of folks.)
Ringing the bell represents what the season is all about. Or should be. It is a gentle reminder of the joy of giving, an opportunity to reach out to those in need. It is a collection plate wrapped in red.
There are no sales pitches. Bell ringers don’t beg you to buy cookies or magazine subscriptions. They don’t twist your arm to purchase a raffle ticket.
People stop to give what they can, when they can. They stuff wadded bills into the slot. They dig through their pocket books. Hey, mother, can you spare a dime?
Some give on their way in the door. Others wait until they’re headed out. Still others rush past as if they were deaf -- and you were invisible.
A few apologize for not having more to share. But all those coins are like solo voices joining a choir. Pretty soon, everybody is singing Handel’s “Messiah.’’
The Kroger on Forsyth Road collected $575.56 on the Monday I volunteered. As of Dec. 17, a total of $43,670 had been raised at locations across the city. There will need to be a major push as Christmas nears to match the $80,675 of last year or the $147,598.91 from 2012.
The kettle is a melting pot from all walks of life. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor. I greeted stay-at-home moms, stay-at-office dads, college students, retirees, neighbors, nurses, weekend gardeners, shade-tree mechanics and folks hurrying to buy bread, milk, chicken soup and cheese straws.
It is extra special when children lean in to listen to the sound of money as it is dropped in the kettle. They are learning a valuable lesson. Their parents and grandparents deserve a Christmas shout-out for teaching them well.
The constant ringing stayed in my ears after I left for ho-ho-home. It made me wonder if my tinnitus was flaring up again.
Of course, I would recognize that happy sound anywhere.
Sure has a nice ring to it.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore @macon.com.