When I got married 27 years ago, my wife gave me a chiming mantel clock she’d found at an antique shop. She envisioned it one day resting in a writer’s study we had yet to build.
The grand writer’s study never materialized. Instead, the mantel clock rests on our old piano in the den.
Early in our marriage, another chiming clock entered our household — a wall model from my mother-in-law. It hangs in the living room, so we have two clocks chiming all day, though they’ve never agreed on the time. One announces the hour a few minutes early, the other a few minutes late. We’ve tried various adjustments, consulting with a clock expert, but it’s no use, really. The clocks have been arguing for years now, more from habit than anything else. I’ve learned to ignore their rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, much as I tune out the points and counterpoints of cable news.
What I like best about our clocks isn’t their accuracy, which has always been suspect, but the fact that they note the hour at all. It’s a pleasure, on an ordinary Thursday afternoon, to hear the clocks sing out the arrival of two o’clock, three o’clock, four. They remind me, when I bother to pay attention, that any hour is worth noticing, even the ones when not much seems to happen. To have every day gilded like this, the sweep of time marked in music, is not a bad way to go through a marriage. My wife was wise to start us out with such a gift.
Last year, during the early days of the pandemic lockdown, our clocks grew crankier than usual, perhaps not too happy to have us underfoot so much. One refused to work, and the other grew so slow that its tardiness became unpleasant.
So we lived for awhile with two silent clocks, which seemed to sadly underline how so much of the world had stopped. A few weeks ago, as part of reclaiming a familiar pattern in our household, I took both clocks to be fixed. Our clock man reminded me that they had gone too long without a cleaning, which might be causing my problems.
He worked his magic and kept them awhile with the other clocks in his shop, which create a chorus for the customers as each timepiece clears its throat and performs the passing of the day.
It’s a relief to have our clocks back home now and running again. They still refuse to chime in unison, and they remind me of opera tenors who want the stage to themselves.
E.B. White, one of my favorite writers, once suggested that in troubled times, winding a clock can be a gesture of hope, what he called “a contribution to order and steadfastness.” I think of this as I once again wind our clocks each week, mulling a season when order and steadfastness seem rare.