The Soapbox: Grandfather’s Clock

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Brandi Chambless

All of the women in my household are domestic engineers with three things in common: rich cooking, needles and threads, and grandfather clocks. It wouldn’t be home without the smell of brown gravy simmering on the stove, a quilt over my lap that someone crafted, or the ambient chimes to which we have all become accustomed. Even through the night, every hour on the hour, ring the chimes of our family clocks, some of which have been handed down for generations.

One particular day as a neighbor slept, the fateful accident that would render their grandfather clock to my household took place. A car drove straight into their living room with no loss of life, leaving behind a mangled grandfather clock that was too sentimental to throw away. Upon gathering all of the pieces, the clock was escorted to my stepfather, an engineering mastermind. “If you can repair it, it will be yours,” said the neighbor.

The work began and over the course of an extended period of time, the insides of the clock were reassembled in a new fashion that caused the chimes to ring. He then built a custom cabinet for the clock and carved it with initials for my mother. The clock rang out in my mother’s home for many years since then, only to go silent when the clockmaker passed away.

When my mother, now widowed, downsized and left behind her country home for something more manageable, the silent clock found its place in a fitting spot at the center of the house, though it had not chimed in years.

Meanwhile, during the COVID-19 quarantine, a close friend of mine began to minister to his friends each morning at 8 a.m. by playing a sacred hymn medley on Facebook Live. For several months, the appointment with the piano instrumental was a mental exercise in recalling all of the words to four verses of the hymns of the ages.

While visiting my mother in her home, she was outdoors at 8 a.m. one morning when the notification came that my friend was playing live. I opened up Facebook and began to sing along. Nobody was in the house, so I could sing loud and proud, recalling all of the words. After a while, I could feel this annoying, antagonizing sound that was competing with the piano and my voice. I kept singing while my ears listened intently for the sound or whatever tech issue this was with the feed. It became so strong that I had to stop my singing when to my surprise the grandfather clock had begun to chime again! I began calling for my Mom! We couldn’t believe it! It was a moment I will never forget.

Not long after that, the time had come for my family to sort out my late grandmother’s estate. All of the mid-century modern art and household goods that are so popular to millennials today seem to be a nod to what my grandmother used for her home decorations. Little Bernice, as I called her, decorated her house only once, but with all of the finest of the mid-century. Of course, she made things beautiful for holidays and graced her tables with fresh roses from her garden. So, when she passed away, I had a good chuckle about the hundreds of dollars that interior designers are raking in over some of the same designs that I grew up with at Little Bernice’s. I felt they had run their course and it was not a trend I was desirous of repeating by any stretch of the imagination.

But when asked if there was anything I wanted, there was the one thing I felt was signature to Gami’s household. It was my only request other than all the memories I carry in my heart of her beautiful French, her excellent gravies, and how to make a roux by placing a penny on the counter until the roux is the same color of copper.

One summer morning, a high school friend of mine showed up and lifted the back door of her SUV with Little Bernice’s grandfather clock in tow. Now my home would be filled with the sounds of Papi and Gami’s home just like my mother’s home had always had the chimes of the restored clock with the initials. And for sure, my home would be filled with the smell of Gami’s gravies, though my French is not nearly as good since most of that generation kept it as a private language so the children would not be discriminated against for not speaking English as a first language.

These are some things I will always cherish, as we all do when our families of origin seem to be shifting and moving into eternity. As we inherit the mantle of becoming the elder generation, I suppose we realize that none of these things really were what it was all about anyway.

For there is only one Father of Time. There is a season for everything. God sets the end before the beginning. Though He does not live in time as we do, we are to make the most of this opportunity to make the best of our time on earth as we strive toward eternity with Him.

About The Author

Brandi Chambless

Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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