Keeping Time

It’s not a very stylish clock by modern standards.  It has a definite Victorian vibe to it: made entirely of oak with lots of turnings and carvings.  It was my Grandparent’s, on my father’s side, and once hung at the far end of their living room, just to the right of the window which housed the AC unit before the blessedness of central air was installed.  In my memory, the clock was always there, silently keeping time through every trip to visit my Papa and Granny, but the yellowing paperwork hidden on top of the clock bears the hand-written date of 7-25-81, which tells me it didn’t show up until I was 6.  They received it for their 50th wedding anniversary, the one to which I wore the hideous light-green plaid reversible suit.

I hated that suit. 

In tiny print at the bottom of the clock face are the words “Made in W Germany.”  The clockworks themselves were crafted in the free side of a divided Germany during the waning days of the Cold War.  With every swing of the pendulum this clock marked off seconds we didn’t know we would have, living with the constant spectre of WWIII, going to bed every night with the fear of nuclear annihilation dancing in our heads.  I can remember my bedtime prayer well:  “God, please don’t let the Russians launch missiles tonight.”  Little did I know only a few years after that clock went up in Virginia, before the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall would come down and Germany would be reunited. 

I remember asking my Papa if I could wind the clock for him. I loved doing it. I’d climb up in the chair beneath the clock, open the small glass door to get the key, then open the clock face to wind the works.  You had to be careful and not wind not too tight, or you’d make it hang up!  They never kept it on all the time, because who wants to be regaled with 12 tolls at midnight?  So being the ornery little kid I was, I’d sneak in and slide the chime from silent to “on” so we could hear the Westminster ring out. Funny how you can ignore the sound throughout the day but it will take you from dead asleep to wide awake with one chime in the night.  

My Papa died just after the turn of the century and eventually, after all the affairs were settled, my dad asked if I’d like to have the clock.  It was really a special thing for me to receive, holding such a memorable place in my childhood.  It may not have been our “style” but we found a place for it in our first home.  Once we had it on the wall, however, I realized it wasn’t keeping time correctly.  It never chimed the right hour, and no matter what I did, it wasn’t accurate.  So it hung there, just a piece of wall art, for several years.

During one of our many moves, unbeknownst to me, my in-laws picked up the clock and took it to a repairman to have it looked at.  They surprised me with it at Christmas that year, all cleaned up and working…like clockwork.  Ever since, it has hung on a wall in every place we’ve lived.  It kept time as my kids were crawling around in NC.  In Oklahoma the old clock hung in our front room, the one with the big arched top window, quietly marking our 5 years in the Great Plains.  It now hangs in our dining room, just off the kitchen and the living room.  I can hear it, if I concentrate.  Like my grandparent’s before us, we don’t keep the chime on all the time, though every once-in-a-while I flip the lever to hear it (inevitably forgetting I’ve done so until being woken from a dead sleep at midnight, heart racing).  

For nearly 20 years that clock sat in the front room of my Grandparents home, quietly marking the moments while my Papa sat and read his Bible by the big picture window, praying for all his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  It has now hung in our homes for slightly longer than it hung in their’s, again silently and faithfully keeping time over three great-grandchildren my Papa never knew but who have his blood running through their veins.  It has been on a wall in their home for their entire lives, setting the cadence for the passing march of time.

It has counted out moments not promised yet spent as though guaranteed.  It has marked the end of life and the arrival of new in the same, quiet way.  It’s a relic from a by-gone era, one before the advent of the digital clock, the cell phone and the smart watch. It’s one of those things which, like so much else these, is unnecessary and yet somehow more than simply nostalgic. It means something.   We don’t have much which would rank as “heirloom” in our home, but this qualifies, not because it’s worth a lot monetarily, but because it carries stories and history for me, and hopefully it will do the same for my kids and grandkids.  

It is also a solemn reminder, with each passing second, of how quickly life goes by, of how many of those ticks I’ve wasted or spent foolishly, as well as a consistent prod to do better with however many I have left.  

I pray I spend them well. 


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