Time is the most volatile and elusive element in our lives.
When I was a little girl, nothing was sweeter than to awaken on a summer’s morning and reach for the book I was reading the night before. Up and dressed, the whole golden day stretched ahead. What did I do? I traversed the fields of trees and evergreens that were our family’s nursery and my personal kingdom. I hunted field mice with my faithful fox terrier, Spot; practiced croquet strokes in anticipation of an evening game with my brothers; helped Mother with the never-ending laundry; gathered eggs; dizzied myself twirling on the swing under the mulberry tree.
I had a happy childhood and, although most of my playtime was solitary, I was never lonely. The hours stretched endlessly from dawn to dark, when I would retrieve my current library book and read myself to sleep.
When my husband Art and I were young parents with five small daughters, we lived in a hamlet called Bristol Center in upstate New York. It was then that Art began his clock collection. He often attended local farm auctions to augment our scruffy household furnishings, and when clocks turned up, he usually bid on them, picking up for a few dollars the gingerbread kitchen shelf clocks and black wood or iron-cased parlor clocks that go for hundreds today. Art’s interest in timepieces came naturally, with a grandfather, father, and uncle all watch and clock repairmen. Art had been an apprentice in his father’s shop.
I enjoyed the clocks for their beauty and history, but I certainly didn’t sit about looking at them—I didn’t have time! My hours were fleeting as quicksilver; there weren’t enough of them in the day. Yet the girls and I somehow found time for our own golden hours, for excursions up the glen, climbing huge slabs of slate and dipping our toes in the clear spring-fed water. Or we would trudge to the small library at the end of the village, or take our flying saucers to the sledding hill during the abundantly snowy winters.
Our nearest neighbor, Edie, was also a young mother with two small children. Edie was a compulsive housekeeper. Her home was spotless—as were her children—and nothing pleased her more than to get out her sweeper, dust cloths, and mops to give the whole place a going-over. When she finished the house she cleaned the car. I wouldn’t be surprised that when she finished the car, she washed the dog and cat.
We were friendly but not intimate, and when we asked her to go with us up the glen, she was always too busy. She did admire Art’s clocks, however. One day when we were passing by she called, “Come on in and see what I’ve got!”
Her husband had bought her a handsome shelf clock. It was in a place of honor in her living room. “It chimes every quarter hour and every half hour and strikes the hour,” she said.
“Isn’t it nice to hear it!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “It keeps me on schedule!”
Many years, many moves, many clocks later.
I completed twenty-five years of commuting to work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; the dominant timepiece in my life for all those years was the alarm clock. Now, girls grown and gone, it would seem that Art and I should have all the time in the world for all the things we need and want to do. Yet now, when we are free to use it, we find that rascal Time has wings.
Indeed, we do have the leisure to enjoy many things, such as finishing the entire morning paper at breakfast, solving another puzzle in the New York Times book of crosswords, walking in Cedar Creek Park, and lo—the morning has flown by and it’s time for lunch.
A nap, a trip to the grocery or library, and it is time for supper. And there are still bushes to trim, rooms to clean (Oh, Edie, you’d be scandalized!), files to sort, clocks to repair, stories to write. How did it get to be October when summer began only yesterday?
The clocks, the beautiful old clocks, remind me that they will still mark the hours when we are gone. While we are here, it is our task and our delight to find those hours that are golden.
This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of UU World (pages 17–18).
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Jeane Knapp, a longtime member of the Unitarian Church North in Mequon, Wisconsin, is a retired library editorial specialist who has published a number of articles and essays.
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