I'll sit with my tea and Muse Cat beside me and listen to the soft chime of the grandfather clock...”
~John Geddes, A Familiar Rain
When my father bought my mother this grandfather clock, it became her prized possession. I could not put it in her small apartment in her assisted living world so it is now in my home. The movers packed all the weights and pendulum in layers of cardboard, but they forgot about the chains that hold those weights, and they tangled unmercifully. So, then it was a matter of finding a clock repair person. While google failed me, Facebook did not! Enter...Rocky...
who makes house calls! So, on Wednesday, he came with briefcase full of magical tools to give our ailing clock a diagnosis! I watched as he dismantled the clock, and I wondered about the future of these heirlooms. Who will be able to fix clocks in 50 years? Rocky told me he and his father-in-law studied with a master every week for a year. Within a little over an hour, the chains were free...and magically one chain that could have brought the clock to its final tock was able to be freed. Think my Daddy's spirit traveled with the clock from Pennsylvania.
Now as I hear it chime, I am 16 again...lying in bed counting the "bongs", but it also got me thinking about why grandfather's clock...not grandmother's? It is actually a fascinating tale! As I researched, I thought this site was funny...and I quote:
At first glance, the answer seems obvious. Think about it- when was the last time you saw a grandfather clock in the house of anyone under the age of 70? Grandfather clocks- with their long cases, pendulums, echoing chimes, and Roman numerals- seem to belong to the world of courting parlors, Model-T Fords, silent movies, and going out on a date for an ice cream soda. In short, the world of grandparents.
In the early 20th century, quarter-hour chime sequences were added to longcase clocks. At the top of each hour, the full chime sequence sounds, immediately followed by the hour strike. At 15 minutes after each hour, 1/4 of the chime sequence plays, at the bottom of each hour, half of the chime sequence plays, and at 15 minutes before each hour, 3/4 of the chime sequence plays. The chime tune used in almost all longcase clocks is Westminster Quarters. As a result of adding chime sequences, all modern mechanical longcase clocks have three weights instead of just two. The left weight provides power for the hour strike, the middle weight provides power for the clock's pendulum and general timekeeping functions, while the right weight provides power for the quarter-hour chime sequences.
The Oxford English Dictionary credits a song written in 1876, “My Grandfather’s Clock,” by Henry Clay Work, responsible for renaming the longcase clocks as grandfather clocks.
One of the brothers died and the clock curiously began losing time. Attempts to repair the clock failed, and the story culminates when at the remaining brother’s death, the clock ceased running altogether. Work was a guest at The George Hotel in 1875, and he heard the story of the clock, hence the song “My Grandfather’s Clock.” The song, told from a grandson's point of view, is about his grandfather's clock.
The clock is purchased on the morning of his grandfather's birth and works perfectly for ninety years, requiring only that it be wound at the end of each week.
My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
The clock rings 24 chimes when the grandfather brings his bride into his house; and before the grandfather dies, it rings an eerie alarm; the family recognizes that the grandfather is near death and gathers by his bed. When the grandfather dies, the clock suddenly stops, and never works again.
The song was a favorite in Britain on Children’s Favourites, a BBC radio program in the 1950s. In the US, Radio Revellers, Johnny Cash, and The Four Lads recorded versions. A 1963 Twilight Zone episode, “Ninety Years without Slumbering” connected to the song.
So, once again the past winds its way into the present, and, I hope, the future. As I said to Rocky, who will fix these clocks in the coming years…or maybe they will go the way of the clock in the George Hotel…standing there as a monument to what was.
Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart's desire.