I love clocks, always have. I grew up with a grandfather’s clock on the landing outside my bedroom. Its hourly chime rang so consistently I’d miss it even when I was listening. The clock had been built as a wedding gift for my great great grandmother, Diana Wilson in 1836.
It is not a fancy clock. The face is pretty, but the wood is dull and alligatored by years of service. The clock stayed with my parents until they both died. It was wound daily and addressed like a family member. We called it Grandfather. I grew up singing the song.
My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So, it spent 90 years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a penny weight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
It was always his treasure and pride
But it stopped short, never to go again
When the old man died.
At the gathering for my parent’s 50th anniversary, my father instructed
my sister in the care and maintenance of the clock. I was devastated. My sister had been given a new grandfather clock when she married in 1969. Diana’s clock was to be mine. That conversation precipitated a number of therapist’s meetings after I returned to New Jersey and a short note written to my father asking if he loved me. My mother called me immediately to assure me that he did. Dad died a year later.
After my mom died, my son and I packed up Grandfather, loaded it and the new Scottie puppy we had acquired after mom’s death into a rental truck and drove north to New Jersey. The clock fit perfectly in the sunroom of our 1836 house in Clinton. It delighted me that the clock and house were built the same year. I find comfort in the presence of old things.
When my granddaughter, Elsa, and her family lived with me, Elsa and I would wind the clock together each morning. She loved doing this just as I had so many years before. There were many old clocks in my Clinton house, some working, some not. Elsa loved investigating the contents of the house – locking and unlocking the carpenter’s chest in the library – driving my spinning wheel in the living room - strumming my guitar in the study.
When I sold my house and moved to Florida, my son wanted nothing to do with my antiques. His world is mid-century modern. I offered Grandfather to my cousin, who is the genealogy buff in the family. I planned to drop it off as I drove south in another U-Haul. The move and the drive at age 65 were too exhausting for any detours, so the clock remains with me.
Grandfather fits perfectly in our high ceiling home. His feet have not been used since the 1940’s but could be replaced here. My partner is the lightest of sleepers, however, and asked that I stop winding the clock as it wakes him hourly.
In the move, several small pieces around the bonnet of the clock were knocked off. I meant to replace them immediately, but it has been seven years. Late in life, time evaporates like the morning mist.
Covid turned me toward family genealogy. I learned that my 7th great grandfather is buried at Quakertown Monthly Meeting in New Jersey, the meeting I attended for twenty years. I feel rooted in my history.
Recently I’ve turned my attention to the clock that has served my family so well. I read that Grandfather’s dull exterior is probably the result of 185 years’ worth of time, dust and grime. I picked up mechanic’s hand soap at Home Depot yesterday and tested it on one of the small pieces that need to be re-glued to the clock. Underneath the grime I found deep lustrous wood. I am excited. I used to refinish furniture long ago and love the process.
It will be slow work – the clock is taller than me and my hands are arthritic – but what is sweeter than spending time with an old friend?