Friends Drift Inn Farm
Celebrations and Marking Time
The Friends Drift Inn Dinner Bell
In Kentucky, traditions are important. Particularly, family traditions. One custom Friends Drift Inn has revived is ringing the dinner bell.
Our bell signaled Great Grandpa from the garden for Great Grandma’s southern fried chicken. Grandpa was beckoned from the orchard honey hives for Grandma’s fish and cornbread.
It sounded the day of my parents wedding and the day I was born. It rang mournfully for the passing of John F. Kennedy.
Our bell sang joyously at Fourth of July gatherings and on Kentucky Derby Day.
But it was not just rung in celebrations. For a time, the bell was hung on the back lawn at the original Friends Drift Inn diner. Facing the riverbank, it was a beacon for boaters out celebrating in the Kentucky sun. Back in the 1960’s, you just did not come into a restaurant dripping wet and clad in a bikini. Well maybe you did; but not at my Grandpa’s restaurant. Boaters could park their boats, wade into the backyard, and ring the bell.
Grandma would appear with a smile and a shout. “Howdy neighbor.” Orders were taken, delivered to Grandpa who would grill them up, Grandma packaged everything in butcher paper and brown paper bags, and tote them down to the grassy lawn.
Sweet Sixteen and Beyond
My sixteenth birthday was a most momentous occasion. Riotous really. Ringing the bell that day was a family affair. We clanged that bell sixteen times.
In a rural community, that much ringing usually meant there was trouble. The message “Come quick.” As the neighbor came a running, I had to giggle. They were so worried! I tried to explain the ruckus was nothing a drivers license would not cure, yet it just did not sink in. Smiling, Grandma shoved plates of birthday cake to all who responded to the call. Finally, the neighbors understood and the merriment continued for several hours.
Looking back, it seems odd that a bell could build community, but it did.
When my grandparents passed, Daddy took the bell but never had the heart to hang it. Without Grandma, we all lost a little of ourselves. But time marches on.
After fifteen years of silence, the Friend family dinner bell is singing again, now relocated to the heart of Appalachia.
The supports, lost over the years, had to be redesigned. Welding a new base, the bell was almost ready to swing. It took three big men to get the dinner bell in place.
There were grunts and grumbles. Pass and Stowe’s names were taken in vain. With a heave and a push it is up!
The Friends Drift Inn bell is now in its fifth geographical location and its fourth generation of family. I feel boundless joy, as if one of the lost kinfolk made their way home.
It is almost as if giving the bell “voice” again, gave me a voice too. Grandma, a poet and a writer, surely would find solace in that. She always encouraged me to write, even when daddy said “writing will never pay the bills.” Well, Daddy’s gone and while I miss him, I got bells to ring-a-ding-ding.
It has been a few years since we rang the bell for my fiftieth birthday, but that day was almost as fun as my Sweet Sixteen! Giggles
Part of the Friends Drift Inn tradition is that guests ring the bell as they leave. That bell has been rung by old college friends, writers who have come for a visit, college presidents, and a host of musicians including Nick Jamerson of Sundy Best.
The first Saturday in May, we celebrate Kentucky Derby Day here in the barn. It is my signature party. Jake rings the bell eight times, in memory of the filly Eight Belles. It is a new ritual for this “new” location.
The Friend Drift Inn bell’s story continues, as does ours. We have birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries to share, and triumphs to proclaim.
I love it when the peals echo back off of the mountains and down through the Big Sandy Valley. When I hear the bell, I know I am home.
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