From around fifth through tenth grades I was part of my church’s handbell choir. (If you have never seen handbells before, check out the Wikipedia article and this video.) I started in the children’s group. and then in seventh grade moved up to the adult choir. At that point, there were two of us young people there; everyone else was at least around our parent’s age. Handbell Guy’s mother, as well as mine, were both part of the choir. This was not a problem, except for the occasional time when the adults got a little rowdy and completely mortified Handbell Guy. Take note that neither of our mothers nor most of the choir (except us) were exactly “small”. These were middle-aged women and men, who generally had the extra rolls of softness to go with their years.
Our group would perform generally one Sunday each month at one or both morning services, depending on scheduling. Our standard apparel was what I call the Standard Concert Outfit — black pants or skirt and a white shirt. Sometimes we would change things up. Once we were doing something with a calypso beat, so we all wore Hawaiian shirts (never mind the geographical confusion.)
If we performed on Pentecost, which is a bigger deal in the United Methodist Church than it is most other places, we would wear red for the fire. And sometimes when we just felt like being visible, we would all wear bright colors. As it so happened, we were performing that upcoming Sunday, so at our Thursday night handbell practice we asked our director what we were wearing that particular Sunday. The exchange between the ringers and the director went something like this:
“So what are we wearing on Sunday?”
“That might be a little chilly in the sanctuary!”
Of course, by “nothing” she meant “nothing special”. However, everyone quickly started laughing and riffing on the idea. “Better make sure we have our music stands at a good height!” “What about using the table covers as dresses?” Handbell Guy’s mother, one of the larger members, added, “We’ll just use some strategically placed bells!” and held her two bells up over her chest, and then below, like some sort of musical bikini. My mother raised an eyebrow and chimed in, “You’re gonna need bigger bells!”
The noise sounded like someone set off a bomb in the room. Handbell Guy was utterly mortified at his mother and looked like he wanted to hide beneath the table. Everyone else, including me, was laughing so hard we were crying. Handbell Guy’s mother was beet red from laughter, (and probably a little embarrassment.) Even our serious members were laughing. Handbell Guy’s brother, who was reading at the other end of the hallway and down the stairs, came by to poke his head in and ask what on earth was going on. It took five full minutes to regain some fragile semblance of order and return to practicing. It was short-lived; all someone had to do was mention, “bigger bells” and we would all crack up again.
And that was how “Bigger Bells” became the pseudo-obscene running joke for a church handbell choir.