Jingle Belle

New Times interrogates that annoying Christmas bell ringer.

NT: Do you donate to other bell ringers?

Showers: Well, here's what I do: I shop on Sundays. Now, bell ringers aren't out on Sunday, so I never see them. But I'm donating my time, all the time. I used to go out to the saloons and collect money, but I can't do that anymore. I used to go do War Cries and open air, but they won't allow us to do that anymore.

NT: What are you talking about?

From whom the bell tolls: Salvation Army soldier May Showers stays in the ring of things.
Emily Piraino
From whom the bell tolls: Salvation Army soldier May Showers stays in the ring of things.

Showers: War Cries was our newspaper, and we'd go out and sell it. I used to love to go to taverns in South Phoenix with my tambourine to collect. I had one man tell me, "You're always in here collecting." I said, "Yeah, you're always in here spending your paycheck, and then we have to take care of your family." Open air was where we would take our horns out to the lowest place in the city. Usually it was the bowery. And we would try to save people there. I've been condemned many times for kneeling down and putting my arms around a drunk, dirty old man.

NT: That doesn't sound very sanitary.

Showers: It wasn't, and it didn't matter. It was my duty and my ministry. But hugging them drunks is the only way to win 'em over to Christ.

NT: What do you do when you're not ringing a bell?

Showers: Well, I live in the Salvation Army assisted-living facility and . . .

Homeless woman: Excuse me. Excuse me. Y'all got a dollar?

NT: I'm sorry. I don't have any cash. Just plastic.

Homeless woman: Thank you anyway. Bye.

Showers: Wait. Here's the number of the Salvation Army. They'll help you. Call that number on that card there. God bless you!

NT (watching homeless person walk away): You hired her! She was a plant!

Showers: No. She probably recognized this uniform. It says I'm a soldier of the Salvation Army. You don't have to wear it, but you get more money if you do. I got a thousand dollars once. But you know how you didn't have any change when that lady came up? That's our biggest problem. Everyone is buying credit cards. You pay with a credit card, you don't get change. So you don't have anything to drop in the kettle on the way out. That's why we're not getting the money we used to.

NT: Sorry. Hey, how come the Salvation Army stores all smell like urine?

Showers: Now, they don't. You just, I don't know. You're maybe thinking about a different store. But not ours. Don't say that. We're a church. People forget we're a religious organization; they think we're a thrift store or a place that gives handouts. We're a church, blessed by the Lord. The Lord's gonna give me another 10, 20 years.

NT: He's told you this?

Showers: Definitely. And don't even bother to ask me if I'll spend those years ringing bells for donations. I don't care if I'm a hundred, I'll still be out there, ringing my bell.

NT: What if you get the flu or something?

Showers: Well, I just won't, that's all. People ask me all the time: What's an old woman like you ringing a bell for? I've been in this wheelchair for five years, and people think it's for sympathy, you know, so I'll get more donations. I don't want pity. Just spare change, thank you.

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