A wide spot in my imagination.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Telling Time Twice

There are two clocks on the piano in our living room.

One clock, the big one, is old. It belonged to my grandmother. She inherited it from her father. My guess is that it's a product of the 1950s, though it was designed to look older. It's a mantel clock, that sits squarely and squatly in its place. It's faux marble, plastic really. And when you look up close, you can see the seams in the plastic and the cracks along the tiny pillars. The hands on the clock are metal, and the second hand is missing. Somewhere along the way, somebody (maybe a grandkid) painted the hands purple. They may even be covered with melted crayon. Maybe the work of a grandmother and grandchild working together.

When I was a child, that clock sat imperiously on the mantel of my grandparents' farm house. It chimed with deep-throated dignity each hour and dinged cheerfully the quarter-hour, half-hour and three quarters-hour. On rare and special occasions, my grandmother would let me wind the clock, gently, gently, careful not to twist the innards too far. (Winding the clock was fun. But this was the same grandmother who made out cleaning brush to be a party and cleaning the fish pond more fun than going to an amusement park.)

That clock, the big one, sits on top of the piano, passed down where my children -- the fifth generation now to have its company -- can see it.

That clock no longer works. But still it keeps time. That clock -- plastic facade, purple-painted hands, and sadly-sprung innards -- reaches across generations and keeps my present in time with the past and the future.

The other clock on our piano is small. Plastic also, it marks the minutes and seconds with digital enthusiasm. Set to some satellite in the atmosphere it silently runs and perhaps will forever. It is the clock for keeping track of the details of our daily schedules: "How long have your practiced the piano?" "Is my 'screen time' over?" "Brush your teeth, it's time to go to school."

The little clock, new and dependable, measures my minutes. The big clock, old and broken, tells the time of generations. I think I need them both. Time needs telling in at least two ways.


  1. When a student at Baylor, Melissa put this modified George Will quote in the media of her calligraphy for my birthday. It stands by the long case clock in our foyer in Charlotte.
    "God made chiming clocks:
    to allow for correct thoughts about the nature and destiny of persons
    to remind that suns, moons and civilizations cannot be rewound."
    (I believe that is the only G. Will quote I have ever retained with appreciation.)

  2. Its nice to live with old things and old memories.
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