This Side Up

Grandfather gets to keep his own time

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Time owns us.

Fear not, this is not a philosophical column on our time spent on Earth, or indeed whether it extends beyond the boundaries of the world as we know it. I’m not ready to go there. So, let’s start with the kitchen, my kitchen.

The kitchen makes for a good metaphor.

It’s the place where we gather, where we take sustenance, where I get a couple of pieces of toast slathered with raspberry jam and a cup of coffee before racing out the door or, on a leisurely Sunday morning, chop parsley and grate cheese for an omelet. Ollie cares not what’s the fare. He watches every move, his tail thumping the reminder that he’s ready to clean up the crumbs or lick the bowl used to mix the eggs.

Sometimes the wagging – mysteriously is the only explanation – coincides with the ticking of the windup clock on the kitchen wall.

We have multiple windup clocks, but only three are pressed into service. The others, safe to say, have met their time. The queen of the silent ones stands six feet tall, a sentinel in a richly hued maple case. She is a family heirloom from Carol’s side of the family. Her mechanism is driven by weights on chains, but unfortunately only the chimes work.

More than a decade ago, I brought the works to Hutchinson Clock Shop in East Greenwich. I’ve known John Hutchinson ever since he started in business in Cranston and we did a story about him in the Cranston Herald.

John looked at the assembly of gears and weights I had boxed up and quickly surmised if this lady were to keep time again I would need to deliver the complete clock and be prepared to wait several months, as finding, perhaps even making, the parts was not going to be easy. Then he delivered the deciding factor.

“This is a two-day clock,” he said. I realized immediately one meaning of being “owned by time” and came to the conclusion this heirloom was best as a quiet reminder of family roots. Pulling the chains on a clock every other day was not for me.

But the kitchen clock and the two in the dining room are 8-day clocks, well, more like 7 and a half although John calls them 8-day. The kitchen clock has a well-established provenance thanks to my grandfather, who apart from being an Episcopal minister, repaired clocks as a hobby. He kept careful notes throughout his life and in poking through books once kept in his work-study one comes across newspaper clippings and observations penned on scraps of paper. In the door to the case of the clock he inscribed, “This clock was given to me by the Rev. H.G. Quick, rector of Springfield Center, NY August 25, 1909 on consideration I repair one similar to this for him. I had the case done over at Tuttles Shop just two doors beyond the Post Office in Cooperstown, NY.” It is dated and signed, “Sewickley, PA, September 24, 1909, Alleyne Carlton Howell. “

As I wound the clock, I wondered if it was anywhere near the right time. It keeps ticking and every so often I tinker with the bob on the pendulum to adjust the speed. Moving the weight, or bob, speeds up time.

I looked at the digital clock on the stove to find she was 20 minutes behind. I then checked the readout on the microwave. The microwave had her 15 minutes in arrears. And then the question blossomed, “how many clocks do we have?” After adding in the bedroom and bathroom clocks, the watches, the computer and iPad, and cell phones, I concluded that I, like so many others, is surely tethered to time.

I looked at my cell phone. Now that, for sure, had the precise time. Grandfather’s clock was 18 minutes behind the time. I moved the minute hand to make the adjustment, triggering the mechanism for the chime. It came to life striking 10, but the clock read 7.

This was hardly a surprise. The spring on the chime runs out before that on the time so if I won’t wind it closer to six days the two fall out of sync with half hours – a single chime – becoming hours and as now the case hours out of whack. At first this bothered me and as I learned to spin the minute hand around until it was properly aligned with the chime. Then it was a matter of stopping the clock and letting actual time catch up. Of course, you have to remember when to start the clock again.

But of late we’ve adjusted to grandfather’s idiosyncrasies. Our two other windup clocks come close to chiming the hour in tandem, keeping strict pace although not quite as precise as cell phone time.

Grandfather does his own thing. I like it that way. His freedom is a reminder that time need not regulate our thinking…all the time.

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