Saturday, May 23, 2015

Keeping My Grandparents' Clocks

The smaller of the two clocks I received from my grandmother. This one keeps time almost every weekend.  Its subtle mechanical sounds, how it works, its mannerisms for keeping time, and the dong-dong-dong sound it makes when it rings the hour and half hour take me back to my childhood. Today it sits at the entry to my study area, from this angle overlooking our living room below.
Before she went into the nursing home several years ago, my grandmother (dad's side), gave me a couple of old clocks that were in her house.  They were part of my life growing up and I always expressed interest in them.

One is a wall-mounted clock but it does not work very well and sounds rather "dinky" when its bell rings the hour.  The other clock sat on the mantel of an unused fireplace in her kitchen throughout my youth and, indeed, until the day I brought it to my house.  It works fine and features a nice, confident ringing bell - dong.  I enjoy hearing it tick and listening to its internal gears shift slightly just before the hour.  Its simple ringing bell reminds me of so much that happened earlier in my life.  The clock is the basis of nostalgia for me.

This smaller clock is still in great working order.  It is known as a "Globe" clock manufactured by The E. Ingraham Company.  I do not know the exact date, but most likely it is circa 1890 - 1895.  Which means this is probably my great-grandmother's father's (or grandfather's) clock.  A fairly old timepiece to still be used on a semi-regular basis.
The identification sticker on the back of the clock is almost illegible these days.
I have no specific memory of the clock.  Rather, there is an amalgamation of past experiences and emotions melding into a singular feeling and relationship with the time piece.  It rang when I was taking naps as a kid on the couch in the den. It rang when my grandmother brought me home sick from school.  It rang through Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.  It rang through the open windows in the early evening of summer when we were shelling peas in the twilight.

So listening to it today connects me with this sketchy blob of past memories.  I feel young again. But it is more than that.  I feel my grandmother's love, the simplicity of summertime (my mom and dad both worked so I stayed primarily with my grandparents in the summer), the thought of eating candy and watching cartoons on TV, having lunch (which was called "dinner" back then, the evening meal was "supper") with the clock ticking on that mantel as we ate at the pull-out kitchen counter.

The clock was part of the background for much of my youth and now it is the background of my weekends.  I don't wind it up and let it go during the week - its clear, unhurried dong and constant tick-tock-tick-tock is not compatible with Jennifer's upstairs office and business.  But on Friday nights I take the key from inside, wind the springs for both the minute hand and the hour hand.  I have learned by feel, by the amount of resistance in the turning of the key, when I have the clock sufficiently wound to go for 2-3 days.  I usually shut it down on Sunday evenings - making a mental note of when it should start up again on the next Friday evening.
I enjoy the decorative glass pane that adorns the door which opens to the facing, pendulum, and bell of the clock.
What it look like with the door open.  Several keys sit inside, only two fit this clock. I don't know what the others go to.
I am not the only one with such memories.  My dad has commented on the clock when visiting my house and hearing it ring the hour.  My sister and cousin have made remarks about it too.  But, mostly the clock goes unnoticed.  It only calls attention to itself sporadically, spontaneously, as weekend time goes by.  We don't notice the passage of minutes and hours as they accumulate and sweep past us.  All of a sudden we look up and see the day as gone.  Then the next and the next.

The old clock keeps time slower these days.  It loses a couple of minutes each day that it runs.  But, I don't care.  It doesn't have to be accurate.  It just has to be there to enter and exit my awareness like a form of meditation.  I once talked to an old-timer that repaired clocks for a living.  I asked him at my grandfather's funeral if he still worked on clocks. He said no, his eye sight was not good enough anymore.  He died a few weeks after that brief conversation.  But not before he offered a simple piece of advice.  I asked him if it needed to be adjusted since it lost several minutes a day.  He smiled. "Wind it tighter."

There is a new repair man now in a nearby town.  I might take the clock to get it cleaned and do some maintenance on its simple mechanical mechanisms.  My grandfather took it to the old-timer for its last repair.  That must have been 30 years ago by now.  So I guess it is time to have it looked at. But, as I said, it keeps time just fine on weekends for the purpose of memory and aesthetics. 

The week days roll by whether or not the clock is ticking.  The weekends are punctuated with its mechanical sounds tracking every hour, or a close approximation of the hour. The clock is marking time in my home the same as it did for decades in my grandparents' house.  I am thankful for its simple gift of being a conduit into my past.  When I pause and am aware of it and listen to it dong I am transported back to the same sounds in a different place with youthful aspirations and lazy afternoons. The time it keeps is not really the time of day anymore.  It is, rather, the vivid time of past hours, past midnights, past noontimes, all of which I experienced and took for granted as a child; and of many other moments we classify as "time" before I was born. 

The clock is the symbol of formative years  and years before I was formed at all.  All that wells up in me when I sit in my recliner not listening to music or reading or writing or watching a movie or practicing yoga or doing any other thing. Just sitting.  Tick tock tick tock.  I open my arms to the vast expanse of what we call time, and touch the melded moments while realizing nothing stands still even if the clock remains.
The larger wall-mounted clock sits on the south facing wall of our home on the edge of my study overlooking the living room below.

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