Maplewood Elementary had turned us loose for summer vacation, and was already fading from memory. The next school year was, at best, some theoretical event in the far future. It was certainly not one of my “today” worries. Today, like every summer day, I had the sole burden of entertaining myself. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It was a burden I was more than happy to share with mother. Sharing is good, right? For her part, what she lacked in entertainment variety (I forgive her) she made up with consistency. We shared a daily ritual that was one of the highlights of my young childhood.
At “precisely 12:45” in the afternoon, mother would take me swimming at the neighborhood pool. I must have been four or five years old, and not quite ready to go-it-alone.
Prior to “precisely 12:45”, mother did the ironing, went shopping, washed laundry, made lunch, cleaned house, and the bookkeeping for the family business – all in all – not much. After lunch she would go back to lie down before we went to the pool. That’s how 12:45 became “precisely 12:45”. That was when her nap was over, and like most naps, didn’t take kindly to abbreviation. This was one rule, I knew from hard experience, was inflexible.
So there I sat, from sometime past noon until “precisely 12:45”, Swim trunks on, towel around my neck, flippers on my feet, swinging my legs back and forth. I would just sit and stare at the big hand on the old den clock. Tick… tock… tick… tock. I was sure that through pure force of will, mind over matter, I could make the hand on that clock move just a bit faster. Those cryptic “I”s and “V”s (roman numerals) had no relevance to me. I couldn’t read time. All I knew was that when the big hand got to “there” we were going swimming!
That was our daily ritual. Mother would go back for her nap, and I would pull her office chair directly in front of that big ivory dial, to again do time-battle with the clock. Every day, all summer long. Of course I do remember finally getting to the pool, the sting of chlorine in my nose, getting sunburned, stickers in my feet, chipping my tooth on the bottom of the pool, and all that good stuff. But my most vivid memories are of waiting for “precisely 12:45″. The agony of anticipation is, to this day, somehow merged with the face of the den clock as the big hand gets closer and closer to ” IX”.
That is my first memory of the old den clock. It hung in the same spot until we moved across town, when I was a freshman in high school. Then It hung over the fire place in the new condo. By that time daddy had told me the story of the clock. Originally, it belonged to John L, Dement (“Pop”), my grandfather. Pop had sent in some ridiculous number of Wrigley chewing gum wrappers and change, in order to get a Waterbury Clock. I had come to admire the old clock, but daddy told me it would belong to Bert, my older brother “some day”. No problem, I still enjoyed seeing it, and the ticking of that old clock filled half the house. It was the sound of home. It was the heart beat of the house.
A few years later, I returned home from high school and found a large dusty cardboard box sitting on our living room table. In it I found an assortment of gears, cogs, plates, screws, springs, and a wood case that looked remarkably similar to Pop’s old clock. Sure enough, I spotted a clock face that was a dead-on match to the one hanging over the fire place. Daddy was in the air conditioning business. Earlier that day, he was making a service call under a customers house when he spotted the box. Recognizing its contents, he asked the owner about it. She said they had tried to take the old clock apart to remount the mechanism. They noticed that in order to to get the pendulum to maintain an even beat, the clock needed to hang ever-so-slightly out of plumb. While trying to straighten the mechanism, they mistakenly removed the wrong screws. The clocks spring was coiled up inside and it took only a fraction of a second for the spring to accelerate the disassembly for them. They put all the parts they could find in a box and that box eventually found its way under their house. Daddy was welcome to keep the box of parts if he wanted them. He brought it right home so nothing would get damaged bouncing around in the back of his work truck while the made the rest of the day’s service calls.
After seeing the contents of the box and being a naturally inquisitive teenager, I went straight to the kitchen. I ate two sandwiches, a tall glass of milk, the remainder of last nights casserole, and a bag of cookies. Actually, I don’t know that is what I did, but I did that most days, so It is a pretty good bet I did it that day as well. Eventually, I started to work on the clock puzzle. It turned out to be fairly simple to put back together. When daddy got home that night the house had two heart beats. He got a kick out of finding it already working, and that I had pieced it together. Over dinner he told me the story of how he found it. He reminded me that Pop’s clock was promised to Bert some day. This clock did not have the same kind of family history, but since I had taken such an interest in it, this clock would be mine, and I didn’t have to wait for “some day”.
That heart beat has been a part of my daily life, either at work or at home, ever since. I even like the way it has to hang, ever-so-slightly, out of plumb.