THE CLOCK DOCTOR

 

Last week I shared a story about a grandfather clock in our house at Brant Lake. Many old-timers also have these wonderful antique clocks and I wondered how the grandfather clock received its name. At its inception, in 1670, this type of clock was known as a longcase clock and, until the early 20th century, was considered the world’s most accurate timekeeper.

However, in the 1870’s Henry Clay Work saw a clock, I assume it was his grandfather’s, that had not been wound and, upon rewinding, became inaccurate. Eventually, it ceased working. So, Henry Clay Work, who was a lyricist, wrote a song he entitled “My Grandfather’s Clock”:

90 years without slumbering
And it stopped. Never to go again
When the old man died.

 

From that moment on the longcase clock had acquired a more whimsical name.

Shortly after my parents were married in the 1930’s they purchased a grandfather clock made by the New Haven Clock Company. The clock featured a brass American Eagle mounted on top of a painting on glass of old-fashioned clipper ships. The hands and chimes were wound every seven days.

The years passed. Eventually my father’s life ceased although the clock continued to beat strongly. My mother moved to a small apartment where, because of the tight surroundings, the sound of the clock assumed a dominant presence, especially since the chimes rang on the half-hour and the hour. Once at one o’clock, 12 times at noon or midnight. Health care workers took 29 minute naps but rebelled at the 12 chimes at midnight. Only my mother, burnished by age and decades of sleeping through the noise, was undisturbed by the resounding sound of the clock. Finally, those administering to my mother set down an ultimatum: “Please silence the clock.” So, one sad day I stopped the pendulum at 11 o’clock, reflecting briefly on how quickly time can be stopped!

Silence reigned until my mother died, the caregivers departed and I transported the clock to my rural farm house built when time was measured more often by the sun than by a farmer glancing at his clock. I reset the clock, wound the hands and relaxed, soothed by the reassuring tick-tock, tick-tock. Unfortunately, after less than a day, the clock slowed. Before the day was over, the pendulum ceased completely. Ironically at 11 o’clock. Assuming the clock was simply out of shape I scurried off to a clock doctor who carefully examined the timepiece and solemnly pronounced his verdict. “Broken.”

Defending the family heirloom, I explained that I had stopped the clock two years before and related the details. The repair man looked at me over his wire rim glasses, a scowl covering his face, and, irritated, announced: “Don’t you know you can’t stop time?”

Sufficiently rebuked, I vowed never again to arbitrarily stop the hands of time. And I haven’t.

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