Listening for the School Bell

Mar 8, 2015 | 2 comments

Gilbert Cottage Clock

Gilbert Cottage Alarm Clock

This is the only morning of the year that I have fleeting thoughts of moving to Arizona. Here in Oysterville that Daylight Savings alarm clock rings well before the chickens are stirring and, as usual on this transition day, I wake up grumpy. I don’t really give a rip if it’s light later; it’s in the morning that I feel energized and eager to face the day.  (Read: face the daylight.)

I always have passing thoughts about how it was before we had transcontinental train travel. In those days, or so I’m told, each settlement across the country was on its own timetable. Noon was when the sun was directly overhead. Never mind that in the next village east or west, noon came a little earlier or a little later. It didn’t much matter. The chickens didn’t get fed until first light anyway.

Of course, in maritime areas like ours, the tide took precedence over the sun. Still does. The oystermen are out working on the bay at all hours, light or dark. What the clock says doesn’t matter much. That goes a long way in explaining why no one much cared in this house, for instance, that every clock (and there was one or more in every room!) showed a different time. I’m talking here about the days before electricity and atomic clocks – when synchronizing watches was necessary on a daily basis. And, while we are at it, I’m talking pocket watches not wristwatches.

Oysterville School 1920sEven as late as my mother’s girlhood here in Oysterville, it was the morning school bell that signaled everyone in town, “ten minutes until classes begin.” In 1908 when my Aunt Medora was nine years old, she wrote to her mother who was in Portland about to welcome brother Edwin into the world:

  Thursday, December 10, 1908
My dear Mama —
There really isn’t any news.
The bell rang when I was dressing. Have to run.
Sue is lacing my shoes. Mrs. M. is combing my hair while I write.
Yours loving, Medora

I wonder if the teacher fudged the starting time by a few minutes a day as the fall and winter daylight hours shortened. Or was belling-ringing time a matter of contractual agreement like bringing in the wood for the woodstove and doing the janitorial duties? Did she have to keep to a strict time schedule?

And how did the village residents feel in 1918 when Daylight Saving Time went into effect for the first time? I wonder if they laughed and made remarks about the tide not moving ahead any faster. Did they shake their heads and grouse about bureaucratic rules and regs? Or did they pay any attention at all?


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I am so with you about daylight savings time. We aren’t in war production trying to save energy6energy farmers have huge lights on tractors and can work as late or as early as they like. Just because we’ve done a thing for 100 years doesn’t mean we have to keep at it. We had other traditions which stopped serving us and got over them.

  2. Nancy Russell stone

    So relieved that you woke up grumpy! I did too, and could not answer my question to myself, “Why?” Now I know. It was dark and foggy and I expected bright sun to flood the room from the east window….remember the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? What’s wrong with good old standard time? Thanks for today’s words from the village.


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