My mother got this brass bell during the five years she lived and taught in Hong Kong in the mid-1970s. I don't know if she bought it or if she received it from someone. It is in the form of what is commonly called a "laughing Buddha", which is a symbol of prosperity and good luck. She brought it with her when she came to this country and kept it near her altar. There is a custom in Buddhism to ring a bell or sound a gong at the beginning and end of prayers, meditations, etc. to help focus the mind. Ringing the bell at the beginning is a reminder that it is time to put aside everyday thoughts and concerns and focus the mind on prayers and meditations. The ringing at the end indicates the end of such focused concentration and a return to everyday cares.
For years, the bell remained part of the items placed at the altar. However, when my daughter was little and stayed home from school because she was ill, my mother would place the bell near her to ring if she needed Grandmother. My daughter remembers that.
Then, after my mother returned home from hospital after her hip replacement surgery, I kept the bell by her bedside to ring if she needed me. Later, when she recovered enough to walk using a walker, I tied the bell to the walker so she'd have the bell with her at all times and also to alert me when was up and about, especially in the night. After her death, the bell was returned to the altar.
Last year, when I came home after my lumpectomy, my daughter brought the bell to keep by my bedside, to ring if I needed her. :) It stayed on my bedside until today.
Today, I decided that I didn't need to keep the bell on my bedside any longer and returned it to the altar. But, before I did that, I polished it with a cut lemon dipped in a little salt, washed, and wiped it. The acid of the lemon juice mixed with the abrasion of the salt makes a good brass polisher that is all natural, environmentally friendly, and since I have an abundance of lemons in my garden, frugal, as well! I have a lot of brass items and this is the only polisher I use.
Who knows, maybe someday, I'll be blessed enough to hand the bell to a little one and say, "Ring if you need Grandma!" :D