Getting My Clock Cleaned

Stealing pears. Stealing watermelons. Smoking cigarettes out behind the barn. Tying together someone’s little sister’s shoelaces. Throwing crabapples at old man Wozniak’s house. It just was what boys did when I was growing up, and whenever they decided to do it again, whatever “it” was, any old folks who happened to notice would shake their heads knowingly. “Sure enough,” they’d say. “One of these days those boys are going to get their clocks cleaned.”

I wasn’t sure what the expression meant, or why stealing watermelons should bring about a clock-cleaning. Living as I did in one of those cleanliness-equals-godliness households, a clean clock sounded pretty good to me. But no one ever suggested a girl could get her clock cleaned, so I didn’t give it much thought. Eventually, the boys grew up and the old folks dissolved into the mists of time and memory, taking the phrase with them. I hadn’t heard it spoken for years until last week, when Ralph arrived at my door and said, “Howdy, Ma’am. I’m Ralph, from Chappell Jordan. I’m here to clean your clock.”

The only difference between Ralph and the Old Folks is that Ralph meant it literally. The clock in question had belonged to my mom. As I sorted through her possessions after her death, I knew I would keep the grandmother clock she and Dad purchased in the late 1950s. Nicely-sized, with a walnut case and beautiful chimes, it had been built by a friend of my dad’s, a man obviously possessed of many talents. It ran for years without significant problems, although it did begin slowly to lose time and had to have its hands adjusted now and then.

It was a lovely addition to our home, and all of us enjoyed it. On the other hand, after Mom’s moves to Missouri and Texas, she never wanted it balanced and restarted. I argued the issue from time to time, but it was her clock and her decision to make. So it was that the clock took up residence in a Missouri living room and later a Texas dining room – elegant, attractive and sadly, utterly silent.

Shortly after moving it to my place, I called Chappell Jordan, one of the premiere clock repairers in Houston. Decades ago I lived an easy walk from their galleries, and often stopped in on the hour to enjoy the cacophonous chiming of dozens of clocks. What I knew was that Chappell Jordan had beautiful clocks and a good reputation. What I expected was a single appointment to set up the clock and teach me how to wind it. What I received was remarkably more.

It began with a promise that, in two weeks’ time, one of Chappell Jordan’s “clock guys” would show up to “evaluate the situation” and make recommendations. Ralph was that guy. He showed up precisely when scheduled, and he was an educator from the minute he stepped inside the door.

The first thing I learned is that I have a chain-driven, triple chime clock. Many clocks play only one chime (Westminster being most popular) but mine has a lever that lets me select among Westminster, Whittington and Winchester. Even better, I have an Urgos chime movement – German made and apparently very desirable.

Less desirable was the internal wear that had caused the clock to slow down. Over the years the bushings had become worn into ovals, and they were slipping on their pivots. The best solution was for Ralph to carry my clock’s innards to his shop, where he could “rebush” it, look for other signs of wear or burred metal and generally spiff it up for me.


When my clock came back, it had been cleaned within an inch of its pretty little life. Ralph reinstalled it, hung the weights, balanced the case, set the time and gave the pendulum a swing – it was, as they say, “on beat”, the tick and the tock perfectly spaced and rhythmic. (Ticking and tocking isn’t just for children, by the way. As another clock repair specialist likes to say, “If your clock doesn’t tick, I’ll tock to it”.)

With a few instructions on adjusting the pendulum, lifting the weights, setting the time and such, we were done. The only decision remaining was which chime to use, and that decision would be mine.

Clock chimes, I’ve learned, are far more than pretty, tranquil sounds. Each of the chimes reverberates with history. The Westminster Quarters, the tune most commonly used to mark quarter hours on a chiming clock, first were used in the University Church tower clock of St. Mary, Cambridge, England. In 1859, they were selected for the Victoria Clock Tower in London’s House of Parliament. After the four phrases are played on smaller bells, the hour is struck on the famous large bell,”Big Ben”.


Much older than Westminster, the Whittington Chimes rang in the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, London, as early as the 1300s.  Legend has it that a penniless boy, Dick Whittington (1354-1423) heard them as he ran away to escape his drudgery in a Dickensian house. The chimes seemed to say to him, “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London Town!” On their advice he turned, returned and persisted in his labors until he became Lord Mayor of London Town and served three terms.

Many people around the world are as familiar with the “Bow Bells” of St. Mary-le-Bow as they are with Big Ben. For years, their sound has been a BBC interval signal for English-language broadcasts. Here, the BBC World Service is received in Germany from the Kranji Singapore relay, signing on in April of 2011 with the 1926 recording of the bells.


Clocks, of course, utilize the chime that Richard Whittington famously heard, rather than the Bow Bells. Here, a lovely Elliot Granddaughter clock chimes 6 o’clock in the Whittington way.

The chimes of Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, England, have an interesting if somewhat sketchy history. Apparently the Norman conquerors weren’t any more fond of Saxon chimes than they were of the Saxons themselves. Walkelin, first Norman Bishop of Winchester and a kinsman of William the Conqueror, demolished and rebuilt the Winchester chimes in 1093. (For a wonderful tale of how Walkelin tricked William and became a noted clear-cutter of forests, click here.) The central tower containing the chimes fell in 1107, but it was rebuilt and still forms a substantial part of the present cathedral.

Interesting and pleasant as the Whittington and Winchester chimes may be, for now my chime of choice is Westminster. Resonant with personal history, bridging past and present, old and new in a truly remarkable way, it evokes my time in London and Liberia as surely as in my parental home, recalling a world where the simple chiming of a clock with a name – Big Ben – was enough to create a sense of “home”.

On the other hand, whether I choose Winchester, Whittington or Westminster, the regularity of the clock’s ticking, combined with the musicality of its chiming, seems to transform the very experience of time. In a silent house, emptied of television and other bits of modernity, an old-fashioned clock marks an old-fashioned time: a steady and companionable time, time marked out on a human scale, dependable and undemanding, flowing and spreading in eons and instants alike – a time capable of containing all the hours of our days.

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Published in: on September 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Comments (67)  
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67 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just as I was making soup for dinner and thinking I needed a little more time today, you posted about clocks, time and history.

    Thank you for sharing all the lovely chimes (many I hadn’t heard before today) and your non-painful cleaned clock story. :)

    • Kit,

      >>grinning<< Yep, a totally painless story, with a slightly ambiguous title. We do what we can to pull readers in, no?

      You may have missed my mention in the past of my on-going and completely good-natured argument with a friend. I contend "we have all the time there is". She's of the "there's never enough time" school of thought. I suppose both are true – but I think my new clock's on my side!

      Linda

  2. I enjoyed this very much, and learned a lot about clocks too. My Grandfather had two table clocks. I remember as a child visiting, he would take a key out of his vest pocket each evening and wind the clock in the kitchen. No idea when he did the other one. Thanks for the sweet memories.

    • Neeks,

      Those little routines were so nice, so important. And isn’t the sound of a clock being wound wonderful? I know – quartz is great and batteries are convenient, but I still love the old clocks and watches. I can see your grandfather getting out that key – it is a sweet memory.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Please do come back any time – you’re always welcome.

      Linda

  3. Very interesting post! I enjoyed it very much!

    • montucky,

      I’m so glad! I certainly had fun doing the research. Whether it’s a clock or a mountain meadow full of flowers, it’s always better to know what you have, and how it “works”!

      Just an aside – we’ve had a number of fire-fighting planes in the state the past few days. North of Houston, a DC-10 air tanker’s been working, and I saw from their records they spent some time in Western Montana this year. It would be wonderful not to need them, but they’re sure a blessing when the need arises.

      Linda

  4. What a beautiful…lovely post that began with a piece of nostalgic remembering about how those boys got their clocks cleaned..and where it’s led you today!!!
    Am loving reading your words….!!!

    • Marcie,

      How kind of you to stop by. And thank you, so much, for the kind words. I do love re-membering the past, putting bits and pieces of experience together in such a way that today’s experiences – and connundrums – are illuminated.

      It tickled me to remember, in a conversation with another reader elsewhere, that I once did the “clock-cleaning” myself! In turn, that brought to mind the verse about the “little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.” She was mostly good, but when she was bad, she could be horrid – and probably a pretty good clock-cleaner. Wouldn’t it be fun to know how many of our women friends have done the same?!

      Linda

  5. If you’re still playing vinyl, get ahold of the re-mastered Pink Floyd classic Dark Side of the Moon album and play Time with the volume set to saturate. The bells and chimes at the start always give me chills, as does the chorus.

    And then one day you find
    10 years have got behind you
    No-one told you when to run
    You missed the starting gun

    • Ian,

      I’m not, but I’ve got a friend who never gave up vinyl, and he’s got equipment the Smithsonian would envy as well as some good, more modern stuff. I’ll bet he’s got the Pink Floyd, too. I’ll give it a go.

      Those lyrics are chilling, because they can be so true. As for the bells and chimes, I just gave a listen and they do reverberate just a little differently in the hands of Pink Floyd, for sure.

      Linda

  6. What a romp – from the childhood memories to the clock and its repair, to the history lesson. Your writing always stretches past my expectations.

    • Mary Ellen,

      Truth be told, sometimes my writing stretches past where I thought it was going. One thing leads to another, as they say – and there’s always some surplus. I had to cut out the story of Dick Whittington’s cat, and the wonderful St. Michael’s chimes from Charleston, South Carolina. But those stories aren’t going anywhere – especially the cat!

      I’ve been meaning to ask – what is that photo in your header? Those are some remarkable characters, and even though I’ve tried, I can’t figure out the banner that says, “breathe”. Very interesting.

      Thanks for stopping by – and enjoy those cooler temperatures!

      Linda

  7. Hello, Linda,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your lovely story and I can especially relate to the last bit about living in a “silent” house. I own a TV, but very seldom turn it on. When I have a free evening, maybe once a month or less, I’ll plug a movie into the VCR/DVD player and watch it, but that’s about it. I don’t listen to music very often either, except in anticipation of the Christmas holidays, when I’ll play Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and other classic carol crooners. So, my ship’s bell clock provides my back ground noise; a gentle ticking and every half-hour, it chimes the bells.

    Even though I haven’t worked on boats for a while now and certainly haven’t worked on any that used the bells to measure the watches, I still know how to tell what time it is by counting the bells. The sound is as comforting as the voice of an old friend. Isn’t it funny how some sounds stay with us? I feel a pang of nostalgia when I hear the tolling of a bell buoy out in Cape Cod Bay. I grew up easy walking distance from the body of water and on still, foggy days, when sounds carried across the open water all the way to our house, I could hear the solemn tones from the bell buoy as it lazily rocked on the swells, announcing the position of harbor.

    In any case, your clock is a real beauty and I hope you & it live a long and happy life together – now that your clock has been cleaned!

    {{{hugs}}} ~ Beth

    • Beth,

      When I first started sailing it took a while for me to become accustomed to the ship’s bells – but eventually their way of marking time became second nature. When I sailed from Hawaii to Alaska, it was still a bit of an old fashioned passage – all hand-steering, no GPS, and so on. And we had the bells – I really liked them.

      I like bells generally, though. Bell buoys, church bells, clocks – they’re all fine by me. One of my best New Year’s Eves was in New York – not in Times Square but over at Riverside church. At midnight, when the bells were pealed, I swear the building vibrated. It was wonderful. I suppose it’s no wonder my favorite Christmas song is – “Silver Bells”!

      I’ve always thought sensory memory was the strongest – sound, scent, taste. There’s still nothing like the sound of a train whistle in the night, or a foghorn. But the surrounding silence helps to give the sound definition, just as light and shadow play off one another. Otherwise, it’s just racket.

      I think the clock and I will do just fine. I asked Ralph how often it would need servicing. He says every five years. What he also said is that, now that it’s all spiffed up, it will be running long after I’m dead and gone. I found that somehow cheering. ;-)

      Linda

  8. I really enjoyed your story. :)

    • Jo,

      I’m so glad! And didn’t I smile when I read your tagline: “Expect to get lost along the way – it makes the journey interesting if you have no idea where you are headed.”

      That applies to a lot of things – including the writing process, as I’m sure you know!

      Linda

  9. I started reading this while sharing an air mattress with Li’l D in Eugene. I’m glad to have had the chance to finish reading it now, even if this is more customarily a time by which I’ve already been asleep for an hour!

    Until I read Georgette’s entry about the clock she bought her parents, I’d never once given thought to the history of the clocks I saw around the houses I visited. Now I can’t help but see them and wonder, “What’s your story? Where have you been, and what do you mean to your owner?” I think I’d better email Georgette and let her know this entry exists, just in case she didn’t know already!

    • Deb,

      Apart from everything else, Georgette didn’t know about Chappell Jordan and now she does. That’s all to the good – thanks for passing on the post!

      Clocks are wonderful bearers of history. Anything that can be passed down in working condition from one generation to another is a marvel, and even from the comments here it’s clear how powerfully they can communicate memories.

      Of course, those new-fangled marvels that get a new battery once a year and don’t make a sound are a different matter. They don’t require much of us, but they don’t give much in return, except for the time.

      Glad you enjoyed the read. I hope you and Li’l D passed a good night and have a wonderful week.

      Linda

  10. From beginning to end, Linda, I am charmed by how you wound up this lovely piece of clockwork. Brilliant!

    I have memories of several imps from my past (if not present?) who should have had their clocks cleaned, and have always loved that expression.

    And I, too, have memories of the grandfather clock in the house, somehow always managing to be on time. I don’t think it always chimed, however, and would love to pick Ruth’s brain about that. Hmmm.

    • Ginnie,

      I just love it when you start extending metaphors – dare I say it’s one key to good writing?

      “Imps” is a great word, and it perfectly describes most of those boys. They were mischievous, not bad. They didn’t mind irritating to the nth degree, but they really didn’t want to destroy. The focus of much of their theft wasnt the watermelon, but the challenge – the planning and execution.

      A funny side note: when Mom and Dad were still dating, he bragged to her about a particularly egregious watermelon theft. Turned out he and his friends had stolen from her grandfather’s field. The relationship survived. ;)

      My own clock is running a little fast – it’s gained a minute in the past week. As it turns out, I can fix that by turning a little disc on the pendulm – one way to speed up, the other to slow down. It’s great, like having a car you can fix yourself, under a shade tree in the back yard.

      Linda

  11. Deb e-mailed this to me…so glad she did. This is such a wonderful post. So glad to know about Chappell Jordan should we ever need their services. Glad to know there are craftsman like Ralph. I love the title and I love all the history contained in here. You write in a way that engages all the way to the end.

    • Georgette,

      So many people in our society have forgotten the pleasures of making – and maintaining – things. So many times I’ve heard the line, “It’s cheaper to buy a new one than to repair it”, and generally that’s true. Of course, it’s often true because what we’re tossing isn’t worth keeping in the first place.

      Deb mentioned your clock post, and I went browsing for it. I still haven’t found it, but that’s partly because I got stopped by your post about Hill Country camps. You might get a kick out of another one of mine called “The Lingering Joys of Camp Retro”. I suspect you’ll understand it in a way many others can’t. ;-)

      Best wishes for the upcoming weeks, especially for your evacuees. I see we still have no chance of rain in the extended forecast. This is getting on my last nerve.

      Linda

      • It was Georgette’s FTIAT entry; I vaguely recalled you commenting on that, which inspired a delighted “aha!” when I saw this. I’d hoped I’d get to read more about your clock. :)

  12. Nice selection!

    • Susan,

      Thank you very much – and thanks for the comment.

      Linda

  13. As so often happens when I read your blog a post will send me off wandering down my own memory lane.

    When I was young we used to visit my mother’s great aunt Laura. We simply called her Aunt Laura though she was indeed “great.” Aunt Laura lived in Westminster, Mass,in a stately old house with columns in front and an old barn out back. Laura was a folk painter of some renown so when you entered the house the first of your senses brought into play was that of smell…the odor of oil paints and linseed oil.

    Then, after the joyous choruses of welcome faded, you could hear, way down the hall from her studio towards the parlor…Tick……….Tock, Tick……….Tock, Tick……….Tock. The stately old grandfather clock marking the passage of time.The interval between each Tick and each Tock marking one second of one minute and if you were patient enough you could see the minute hand move from one Roman numeral to the next.

    I listened to each of the bell chimes you had in the post but I can’t pin point which one that old clock used. After all it’s well past half a century since I heard its tone though I still recall the Tick……….Tock.

    When Aunt Laura died (Willard Scott wished her a happy birthday on the Today Show before that happened) all those antiques in her house were divided between my mother and her brother. Howard got the clock. I’ve been waiting for an answer to an inquiry to my cousin Jeanie before writing my comment and was pleased to find out that the clock is currently residing at the house of my late cousin Gail’s daughter. It’s nice to know it’s still a part of the family.

    • oldsalt,

      Somehow your description of your Aunt Laura’s house raised a memory of my grade school days. Each of our classrooms had a pendulum wall clock – I remember taking tests and hearing that “tick…tock” – in that case, it could raise a little anxiety. Time was passing, and I couldn’t think of all the answers!

      I’m glad your clock still is part of the family. You might want to give a listen to the St. Michael chimes. They’re used more than Winchester on triple chime clocks, or at least as often, and their connection to Charleston at least raises the possibility they would have been more popular in the East and SE. This is from a “clock guy’s” site:

      “The bells were cast in London and installed in the St. Michael Church steeple in Charleston in 1764. During the Revolunary War, the British took the bells back to England. After the war, a Charleston merchant bought them and sent them back to America. In 1823, when cracks were discovered, they were sent back to London to be recast.

      In 1862, during the Charleston siege, they were moved to Columbia, S.C. for safe keeping, but Sherman’s army set fire to the area, and nothing but fragments of the bells remained. These were sent back to London once more, where the original molds still stood, and again, recast. In February 1867, the eight bells were reinstated in the St. Michael steeple.”

      Here’s a great video from the St. Michael’s steeple. Near the end, check out the “clock guy’s” chair in the window!

      Linda

  14. Such a lovely post–worthy of a poem, though I haven’t a reference point like your so-perfect Little Gidding was for the post over at PD. I love listening to the clock chimes, all sorts. How wonderful that you were able to restore your clock so as to have its chiming in your home.

    Hmm. Now I think of it, I do have clock chimes to offer you in return–not a poem, but a sound composition by Derek Piotr, inspired by his listening to two clocks chiming at the same time at his aunt’s house, where he was living. If of interest, it can be found here, scroll down to the Listening List to Midnight for Two Clocks.

    • Susan,

      The internet being what it is, I might have found Derek’s work on my own, but I doubt it. “Midnight for Two Clocks” is just remarkable, and on a second or third listen, my own clock decided to chime in. I suppose we could call that “Midnight for Two Clocks and an Interloper”.

      Derek’s work generally is remarkable, and I was glad to read the interview. You were right in your own post when you mentioned the “Clocks” piece as being the most accessible, but it’s all interesting, and the Dali reference was perfect. As far as “sounds” go, one of my favorite sound sites has an hour-long loop of rain and thunderstorms. It’s a nice thing to play on these hot, droughty evenings. One of these nights, I’ll see how the rain and the chimes fit together. ;)

      Linda

  15. What a wonderful post, Linda — I knew you would write one after we spoke of the clock. Oh, my! I suppose I should have expected none less from you than to not only have chimes from which to choose but then to research them all! I found it fascinating and was so glad you included chimes! The clock looks very much like my family clock, but to the best of my knowledge we only had the one chime! What a treasure — and all the more so because of it’s wonderful history with its family connections.

    I suspect that each time the chime rings, a memory comes to you. I hope it is always that way, and that they are good ones, indeed.

    • jeanie,

      It’s funny – this isn’t the post I started out to write. There’s still another one, about why I chose the Westminster chime, but that one will be harder to write, and might end up as more of a story. We’ll see. In any event, this was was a delight to write – I learned so much about clocks, English history and even the life of clock repairers!

      But you know what? When the chimes ring, no memories arise. Instead, the chimes call me back to the present moment. They don’t remind me of anything – they simply are. That’s a gift in itself.

      Linda

  16. I enjoyed this post – it reminded me of being a child and staring at my grand mother’s cuckoo clock waiting for the little bird to appear…

    • belle,

      Now, that sounds like fun! I have a vague memory of a cuckoo clock at my grandmother’s house, but I don’t remember the bird. The clock must not have run – if it had, I would have been planted in front of it waiting for the bird, too!

      Linda

  17. What a beautiful clock, how nice to have it all cleaned and working properly again. Very interesting information about clocks too.

    • Juliet,

      It is a lovely piece, for sure – and such fun to add to my little stash of knowledge about your part of the world because of it!

      It’s such a quiet thing I keep having to get up and walk over to check to be sure it’s still running. So far, so good!

      Linda

  18. What a richly researched post, and on a topic I wouldn’t have thought of. Never knew there are YouTube clips on the Big Ben … sounds wonderful from my laptop. I’ve a Cuckoo Clock my parents brought back years ago from Black Forest in Germany. It certainly needs cleaning and reconditioning. Hard to find a ‘clock guy’ like Ralph here though.

    • Arti,

      I’ve stopped thinking to myself, “Oh, there couldn’t be a youtube video on THAT!” There are a lot of people out there creating videos on everything from knitting to genetically mutated katydids. I was happy to find such a good one for Big Ben.

      You might be surprised how easy it is to get your clock refurbished. One of the things I learned is that there are people all over the internet who are willing to help out – hobbyists whose sole purpose in life seems to be spreading the word that clock repair is fun, and helping folks who are trying to do it themselves. You might find a hobbyist in your area – after all, that’s how Ralph got started!

      Linda

  19. “Oranges and lemons sing the bells of St. Clemens…” This is a rich post, indeed. Your clock is beautiful, and all of the echoes that resounded here (bushings, your choice of chimes, William the Conqueror, Dick Whittington, all those young rascals) make it more so.
    I cannot listen to the chimes at this hour, but I will.

    Thank you.

    • ds,

      I’m not surprised you’re the one to mention “Oranges and Lemons”. During the 1970s, the BBC World Service used the song as an interval signal, having changed from Bow Bells. It didn’t last long, though, and after a short time they went back to Bow Bells. Another of those “new Coke” decisions, I suspect.

      I must say, it has a nice, cheerful tune for a song that ends with a reminder of the beheadings at Newgate prison. On the other hand, generations of kids have lived with “if I should die before I wake” without significant trauma. ;-)

      You’ll love the chimes!

      Linda

      • I did indeed enjoy the chimes–ahhhh…
        As for the chop chop chop “Oranges and Lemons” the record I learned it from was clearly Bowdlerized (or Disneyfied) because I did not know that verse at all.

        What were you saying about New Coke ;-)

        • An English friend grew up with the “authentic” Oranges and Lemons. She says they never thought much about the beheadings. I suppose their sense of history’s different. I once knew another Brit who claimed they always were stealing apple baskets to “play guillotine”. ;-)

  20. Hi Linda,

    It was your meditation on clock cleaning that got me thinking about time, so thanks for leading me into a posting of my own.

    I did a cursory search to find the origin of ‘clean your clock’ and couldn’t find it, but it led me to a mention of the song My Grandfather’s Clock, which my father used to like to belt out, er sing, when we were on roadtrips. Interesting the way one thought leads to another.

    Because, thinking about clocks then takes me to my own Grandfather’s (and Grandmother’s) house, where the sound of the clock ticking would soothe me off to sleep when I got to sleepover (it was a short one, that fit on the shelf). The clock kept time with the pattern headlights made across the ceiling, coming through the venetian blinds.

    And my piano teacher; she had a grandfather clock in the hallway I came through to her teaching room. It was grand, as was her house, everything ancient, as was my piano teacher (to my young eyes).

    These memories are all from a long (analog) time ago.

    • Shirley,

      I love the variety of memories the clocks raise, and how vividly people seem to see the settings for “their” clocks. I wonder – what memories will the quartz-and-digital clocks generation have? And will their sense of time actually be different because they never hear its passing? There’s probably no good answer to that one, but it’s certainly an interesting question.

      I do like the thought of belonging to the “analog generation”.

      As for “Grandfather’s Clock”, I’d only heard the song as a bluegrass instrumental, usually featuring the banjo. The lyrics are poignant. If “Grandfather’s” family’d had Ralph, though, they could have gotten that clock running again!

      Linda

  21. Those of us who grew up in New York in the 50s, and who somehow managed to stay up late enough, remember “The Late Show” on WCBS-TV and its theme song, Leroy Anderson’s “The Syncopated Clock”. As the show began, lights in silhouetted apartment buildings would come on (or maybe they went off), one by one, to the beat of Anderson’s tune.

    • Al,

      Thank you, thank you! That’s the song that’s been nagging at me since I wrote this. I could hear the first phrase in my mind, but searching youtube didn’t do me a bit of good. I pulled up every version of “Grandfather’s Clock” known to man, and even a few Nancy Drew entries (“The Secret of the Old Clock”), but never got to “The Syncopated Clock”.

      We didn’t have television yet when the series started, but by the mid-fifties we did, and even though I wasn’t allowed the pleasures of late-night tv, the song was everywhere, on radio and shows like Lawrence Welk.

      The image of the apartment lights flicking on (or off) in rhythm is great – and it probably will be days now before I get the song out of my mind!

      Linda

  22. “…a time capable of containing all the hours of our days.”

    How those hours and days can race by, Linda, many unnoticed. The chiming clocks sprinkle time with beautiful music and, in their way, remind us to pay closer attention. I’m happy to hear that you were able to bring one of your Mom’s treasures back to life. This is another wonderful piece of writing.

    • bronxboy,

      “Back to life” is the right phrase. That darned clock does seem alive now – it’s really quite remarkable.

      Here’s the rest of the story… A few days after Ralph left,the clock stopped. I re-started it three times, and each time it ran two minutes before giving up. Of course Ralph was back in a week to diagnose the problem, which he found in no time (!) and the clock’s been fine ever since.

      Still, in those few days of silence I really missed the clock. I didn’t think I was hearing the ticking, but the silence when it stopped was louder than its sound. Ironic, and instructive.

      Linda

  23. Your clock looks beautiful, Linda, and the best part is that it uses no batteries!

    Would you believe that I recently bought an old fashioned looking Chinese alarm clock, just to have another non electronic object in the house? It ticks too loudly to have beside the bed, and loses time terribly every day, but who cares about that! Winding it is almost as much fun as moving the bellows on my accordion (the other non electronic object I own).

    • Andrew,

      I do believe it. I’m a great fan of wind-up clocks myself, although one of my two is battery-powered. It was Mom’s also, and batteries have their advantages in the face of memory loss and arthritis!

      But here’s something funny I’d not thought about. One of my alarm clocks is a Big Ben, and one is a Baby Ben. I guess it should have been more obvious to me than it was that I’d choose the Westminster chimes.

      Do you play the acordion? You must… what fun!

      Linda

  24. You do such a good post.

    Sadly the chimes wouldn’t load for me. The Internet here at home today is uncooperative.

    It’s all just so satisfying. Knowing you got your clock cleaned, wondering where the heck that euphemism came from, the beauty of the clock, the choice of chimes, Big Ben, and ending with yes, the gratifying sound of a tick-tocking clock that is precise, in a silent house.

    Because Don’s parents have moved from a five-bedroom house into an apartment, and all my FIL’s 75 clocks are either being divvied to grandkids or sold (just a few being hung in their own apartment), and we have two hanging on the wall in this room where I sit, I can relate to your love of the sound.

    Beautifully written, as always.

    • Ruth,

      I had missed your clock story and your poem until after I’d written this, when ds and Ginnie (I think) mentioned “your clocks”. I just went to your site and found the poem, and read, and am astonished again at how differently two people can approach such a similar complex of topics: time, family and and the ticking down of our lives.

      There truly is something comforting about the rhythmic and repetitive sounds of life – not just mechanical clocks, but rocking chairs, porch swings with squeaky chains, the almost-disappeared singing of a crosscut saw. I suspect they comfort because they make audible the rhythm of our breath.

      In any event, we can rejoice in our clocks, and in the words that allow us to make them live for others. And thank you for your kind words!

      Linda

  25. I’d never heard the phrase “getting my clock cleaned” in reference to anything but clock-cleaning before this entry. Now, every time a new comment lands in my inbox, I wonder, “What’s she done to get her clock cleaned now?” I’ll have to find a way to use this phrase. :)

    • Deborah,

      Isn’t that funny? That was a go-to expression when I was growing up, along with “Don’t sass me, young lady”. If you sassed, you could get your clock cleaned!

      I’ve been looking and can’t find much at all about the history of the phrase. I guess that doesn’t really matter – or at least it didn’t then. We all knew what it meant!

      Linda

  26. Bravo on choosing Westminster! Is there anything more comforing/celebratory/attention getting and yet soothing? I loved clicking around in this post for the sounds and stories – wonderful!

    And now, yes, believe it, I’m printing this out to share with Mom. She has a “silent” grandfather clock and by jove, I’m inspired to help her get it back on “tock.”

    • oh!

      How wonderful, that your Mom has a clock. Now that I know just a little about them, I’m sure it could be fixed up in no time. They’re complex, but not nearly to the degree I’d imagined. And in the hands of someone who knows what he or she is doing, it shouldn’t be any problem at all.

      When Ralph took my clock innards away, it took about a month to get them back because they repaired the clock, and then let it run on a bench in the shop for some weeks. It makes sense – better to let it run at the shop than to put it back in the case and then see if it runs, especially since the shop is about 25 miles up the freeway.

      I just can’t tell you how much pleasure Mom’s is giving me. And once it’s fixed, the recommend servicing them about every five years – done right, they aren’t a high maintenance item.

      I even remembered to wind mine tonight! It takes about a week for the weights to fall. Then, I just pull them back up and away we go!
      Such fun!

      Linda

  27. How nice that you got your clock cleaned. I mean that in the nicest way. It’s beautiful and who isn’t charmed by a chiming clock of any sort? I remember a clock that was hanging on the wall in my friend’s kitchen when I was a child. Sometimes an old crone would come out of a small door as the hour chimed, and a pretty child came out at other times.

    We have a church nearby that chimes every hour. I made sure my grandchildren heard it on their last visit. There’s just something enchanting about marking time with a chime.

    • Bella,

      I’ll tell you what else would be charming – if Comcast could keep their service running on a regular basis. All of this upgrading they’re doing seems to be degrading my connection. Grrrrrr…..

      I’m fascinated by that clock with the child and the crone. I wonder if they were assigned specific times, or if their appearance was random? If it were random, that would be a little spooky, somehow. I was thinking out loud about a Halloween tale at Bellezza’s today. It seems like something could be done with a clock that started producing strange figures at assorted hours….

      There’s a Catholic church and school in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana that chimes the hours. I’ve stayed in a bed and breakfast nearby, and it’s wonderful to sit on the gallery late at night, listening to the clock and luxuriating in all the scents of the garden.

      I like that you helped your grandkids hear the chimes. Sometimes we need people to point things out!

      Linda

  28. My mother has the same clock and has had the stain refinished a couple of times so that it always fits in with its setting. And it’s not actually the same clock, hers has a strange moon phase that turns and changes at a much slower rate than the two hands.

    I wonder if she has any images of it when it would have a similar finish, but I don’t remember many pictures at the Park Sorrento house.

    • who,

      Moon phase clocks are lovely, and the artwork on some of them is amazingly detailed. I’ve only seen them in clock shops or museums – what fun to have one!

      When you think about it, the variety of clocks – their decoration and such – is amazing. It’s no wonder that people like to collect them!

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. You’re welcome any time.

      Linda

  29. What a lovely, charming (chiming) post :) I enjoyed it immensely as well as the pictures you chose to illustrate it. So much to learn and remember too. I remember my grandfather and now I see my father slowly turning the needles of an old clock to bring back to life its crystalline song at regular intervals.
    …”to have their clocks cleaned…” We have a similar expression in French :”Remettre les pendules à l’heure”, to set the record straight so to speak.

    • Isabelle,

      How lovely to have you stop by. Isn’t it marvelous how so many of us, separated by culture, distance and such, still can share so many cherished memories? Grandfathers are grandfathers, and clocks are clocks, and they evoke so many of the same feelings for us all.

      Your phrase makes me smile – first, because google translate got it exactly right (that is, as an idiom) and secondly because it reminds me how hard it was to move beyond literal translations of words when I was learning French. Language is such fun!

      You’re surely moving into autumn, now. I hope all is well and that life is beautiful.

      Linda

  30. Another great post. It was fun to listen to the different chimes, and to know what they’re called. Your clock is a very handsome specimen and well worth having it properly cleaned and looked after.

    I listened to the youtube of the Granddaughter clock with the Whittington chime, but I don’t know why it’s a grand daughter clock.

    In the museum where I work we recently had an exhibition of Paris during Marie Antoinette’s time, and standing at my cash register I could hear several beautiful clocks from the era chiming the half hour. Amazing to think they were still keeping time after all these years. Imagine what they’d seen!

    • dearrosie,

      The different names – grandfather, grandmother, granddaughter – have to do with size. Grandfather/mother are also called “long case” and sit on the floor. The granddaughter is much shorter.

      I love winding the clock. Mine is chain-driven, which means every few days I have to pull the chains to raise the three weights that run everything. The first time, I very nearly forgot, and the weights almost were sitting on the floor of the clock! I suppose at that point it would just stop running.

      But it is amazing that these mechanical devices are so dependable. They don’t need batteries, they have no software, they can be repaired rather than thrown away – no wonder they hang around through the centuries and still keep time for us!

      Linda

  31. Brings to memory the anniversary clock sitting silently in its glass bell jar with rotating weights endlessly circulating clockwise then anti-clockwise (a torsion pendulum), and with the entire clock mechanism exposed for view. Required winding only once a year. I believe at one time it was a traditional wedding present.

    Mary had a little watch,
    She swallowed it, its gone.
    Now everywhere that Mary goes
    Time marches on.

    There’s also ‘Three Blind Mice’.

    Rick

    • Rick,

      And we certainly can’t forget this one:

      Why did the little boy throw the clock out the window?
      He wanted to see time fly.

      ;-)

      Linda

  32. It was a cold night in the snow then I wandered in here. Well, I ‘ll be clock watching and airdyne riding for a bit then maybe
    sleeping. It happens at times. Always fun.

    • blufloyd,

      And I’m always happy to see you wander in. Glad to hear that mention of snow, actually. There have been a lot of unhappy people wondering about the brown December/January up your way – not just for the “pretty”, but for the moisture.

      Hope all’s well – keep on keepin’ on.

      Linda


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