My father loved clocks. I don’t know if this gave him some sort of illusion of mastery over time but he enjoyed their mechanisms, workings, tinkering with them. We had a dear friend who owned a lovely and very old grandfather clock in constant disrepair. Whenever our families visited at their home Dad would spend considerable time with this clock. He usually fixed whatever was wrong but invariably it would need attention again, prompting another visit.
He once built a clock, my mother needlepointed the face of it, a blue bird and a cardinal, Roman numerals. This clock chimed every quarter hour and somehow never woke the household during the night. I loved hearing its chimes and the graceful sway of the pendulum. My brother and I would take turns pulling up the weights to rewind it.
Some years after my brother and I finished college and had left home another clock appeared in my parents’ home. Dad told me it is called a kitchen clock. It has a cast-iron body sculpted with Hummel-like figures over its face. The color has faded some but you can still tell what they are. He said it was his family’s when he was growing up and over the years the glass front has broken so the clock face and pendulum are exposed but I love this clock.
I found the clock in Dad’s attic when he passed away. It was lying on its back on the attic floor, abandoned. I did not know if this was because Dad had no place for it, or my step-mother didn’t like it, or it reminded him too much of his home with my mom, but I gathered it in my arms and carefully put it with the few things I was taking home. It ran well for a year or so, then stopped. I lived in New Mexico at the time and a coworker told me of a clock maker she knew so I took it to him. He repaired it and told me some of its history: not of great value, it had been made circa 1858 by W. S. Johnson, N.Y., the cast-iron front made by N. Muller and was considered to be what then was known as a kitchen clock, as Dad had said.
Again, after a year or so it stopped running. Now I had moved home to North Carolina and found another clock maker that many people recommended. He wanted to know how I had come by the clock. I told him of its history as I had known it, and that it had been repaired not long ago. After about 3 months he phoned to let me know I could come and retrieve Dad’s clock.
It runs at a 6-8 day stretch and needs winding with a key. The past few weeks have found it needing to be wound every 3-5 days. Then I would have to restart the pendulum several times before it would pick up momentum on its own. One recent morning, in a hurry to leave I wound it too tight and heard a terrible sounding crunch! I wanted to cry. I knew I had done something awful and found a clock repair person nearby.
He arrived one afternoon to look at the clock. I told him what I had done and he said it likely was the mainspring and gave me an estimate for what it would cost to replace it and clean the rest of the clock. I watched as he carefully carried it away to his car, his promise of its return in about 3 weeks.
My house is now silent. No friendly tick-tock greets my day. It’s like a heartbeat has stopped. Oh, the chimes stopped working long ago, but the ticking is what I really miss. As though it spoke to me, marking the minutes and hours of my days with me.
My father loved clocks, I suppose because they represented something of such great value to him: Time. He made the most of opportunity and everything life presented to him. He was intuitive and decisive, a combination which afforded him the best of everything he was and did. He often said no matter what happens, even in mistakes, you can make them work. And it’s not that you bite off more than you can chew, you just run out of time to chew it in.
He never ran out of time, but it did run out on him.
Miss you Dad. Looking forward to getting that clock fixed.
“Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight…” ~Elizabeth Akers Allen