One Long and One Short Ringy-dingy

by Miki Craighead

Mal __ —–.  Evelyn __ —-, Don __ —, Gen __ –, Maxine __ –

In the days when children could roam freely within their neighborhoods. . . and in the days when a child needed to be called to do chores. . . and in the days when the only phone in the house was securely fastened to a wall. . . and in the days when the family gathered every evening around the dining table for dinner, the ensuing problem was how to get the attention of those who were scattered about fulfilling their own agendas and summon them for a meal, a chore, or a phone call.


I was in such a family with five children, a mother and dad.  I could be anywhere in our two and a half story house, including the basement making wooden toys, the attic playing dress-up, or in the neighborhood playing games of kick the can, or roller skating on the newly paved street. My siblings, all older, had their own sets of activity.

My dad took great pride in developing new ideas that made living a bit easier.  Since we were a fairly large family and didn’t have great means for extras, my parents frequented the Goodwill store for whatever they needed in supplies. Mother crafted beautiful hooked or braided rugs from 100 percent wool clothing purchased at the Goodwill store. An example of Daddy’s creativity is an outdoor lamp still in use today made from a peanut butter jar which lights the entrance of the house at 2500 North Lawrence, Tacoma.

Summoning one of us kids or the whole family became a huge chore for anyone who needed to get in touch, so Daddy decided to devise a system that would save anyone the inconvenience of yelling or of having to hunt down one of us out in the neighborhood. Thus, the system of the electric bell. Daddy and my older brother Don devised the system by wiring up alarm bells to electricity, mounting one inside the house in a hallway upstairs, and the other outside the house where it could be heard throughout the neighborhood. Its ringer was housed just above the telephone which was mounted near the kitchen.

Each of us five children had a different bell signal. My signal was one long ring followed by one short ring. My sister next in age had one long ring and two shorts. The short rings ascended from one to five from youngest to oldest sibling. The summons for dinner was two long rings. If anyone didn’t hear the sound, or was late, he or she didn’t get to eat dessert, so the system worked brilliantly. 

I think I can safely say that this bell was instrumental in promoting family togetherness. Our family prayed in Quaker silence before the meal, then celebrated and shared each other’s individuality while gathered at the dinner table in response to the bell’s call.

Miki's family postcard

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