When I see the little brass bell on the shelf behind the glass windows atop my grandmother’s secretary desk, I think  “mischief.”

The dining room at Cornell University’s Risley Hall, where Nancy Riggs Robart’s Grandmother Winne presided over meals. Photo courtesy of Nancy Riggs Robart

One of my fondest memories is visiting my maternal grandmother, Winne, as a child. You see, I wasn’t visiting her at her house; my visits took place at “the castle,” which is what the Risley Hall dormitory on the Cornell campus was called. She had accepted a position as a housemother for 200 girls in an all-female residence hall. There, she watched over them, signed them in and out and made sure the rules were obeyed.

I loved hearing her stories about the shenanigans that went on. One incident she loved telling took place in the dining hall. Risley had a beautiful dining hall, modeled after the dining hall at Oxford University with high ceilings and chandeliers hanging above a long table. My grandmother sat at the head of the table, and when we visited we would sit alongside her. The girls sat on either side of the long table. I felt like she was a queen when we stepped into the dining hall, with the girls standing at their places in respect.

She had a little brass bell she would ring when all was still, and she approved the scene, signaling everyone to be seated and begin eating.

One evening, she went to ring the bell, which sat on the table at at the tip of her fork, and it wasn’t there. The girls had hidden it. After a while, the girls got tired of standing and the giggles stopped. One of them produced the bell. And the clapper once again rang out against the brass, signaling all was well and it was time to eat!

Grandma Winne had a good sense of humor and enjoyed the little prank they pulled on her.

So whenever I see that little brass bell on the shelf, I think “mischief”!

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