My Grandmother’s Clocks

“mantle clock chimes “it’s the dark of the moon…”

Four hands

are spiraling

around a circle

breaking time

into increments.

 Resonate bells

 call up dark nights,


ushering in a season 

without need

 to harmonize.

Percussive voices

soothe an aching

heart overflowing

with grief.

Chimes intoning

the inside out.

 Recently I gave myself an expensive gift. I had my two beloved clocks cleaned and oiled, and now both are ticking and chiming again. 

Today they circle time.

 One of these, a small valuable antique (I am told), sat on my grandmother’s mantle before I was born. I imagine that as an infant I heard the soothing sound of this clock ticking softly, then breaking that rhythm as tiny hammers hit the bells every fifteen minutes, and finally, ringing in the next hour with deep resonate chimes that marked each passing hour. My grandmother gave me this clock as a young mother much to my great joy. It chimed regularly for my children, as it once did for my little brother and me…Before I moved to the mountains the clock had stopping working; my children were grown and gone.

After my grandfather died I acquired the second clock. This one, an official ‘Grandmother clock’, stands in my living room. My grandfather gave my grandmother this clock as a gift when I was about twelve. She had wanted one for years. I remember how reverently my grandmother wound the clock every week, and after her death my grandfather continued to keep the clock running until his death twenty years later. When I obtained it the clock kept time until five years ago when it finally slowed and eventually stopped ticking. I wondered if the Grandmother clock ceased to run because my grandchildren (kept from me as children, not without a fight on my part) had abandoned me by choice as an adult without ever trying to know me.  

I missed the chimes so much…

 Today, both of my grandmother’s clocks have come back to life. The mantle clock presently lives upstairs where we spend cold mornings sitting in the warmth of the rising sun in spring and fall… when winter comes this year the mantle clock will join us on the ground floor. On days like this when the wind blows, the log cabin walls mute the upstairs chimes and I find myself straining to hear the music. The Grandmother clock stands on the floor in its usual place in the living room and sings me to sleep every night. 

The kindly man who restored the clocks called me last week to ask me how they were running. How delightful, I responded with gratitude. When he asked if they were keeping good time he was upset to learn that they weren’t. When I assured him that I didn’t mind because what I loved was hearing the chimes he told me he would return to synchronize them. Both are running a bit behind.

I think that like the clocks, I too am running behind. As I approach my 77th year I am uncertain what the future will bring. On many levels I am clearing the space I live in, letting go of life energy, of things, of dreams of being reunited with people I love. Grief seems to have become a permanent resident in my body, making it difficult on some days to stay with my feelings. When I listen to my clocks ticking I think of my age in linear time, recognizing that time is passing and I am moving closer to my death, but then I remember that the hands of my clocks are also moving around in a circle, and that time has both a linear and a circular aspect… “what goes around comes around” – is that what is really meant by that phrase? ‘Life, death, renewal’ this is the circle of life (Carol Christ).

I think of Nature whose seasons define what’s valuable in my life on both a personal and impersonal level. I take to the woods to find joy and solace engaging with Nature as mother, father, lover, brother, sister, becoming the child whose sense of wonder eclipses all thought. Feeling, sensing, intuiting, being is all there is. Participating in the Greening, perched on the edge of the season of flaming maple fire I feel profound gratitude for the gift of Now. Yes, I grieve my own losses but how do I separate them from the loss of birds and forests, an abundance of clear clean waters and sweet pure air, ‘the peace of the wild things’? I don’t. If aging has taught me anything it is that I am a part of a whole so vast, so complex, so intelligent, so full of feeling, sensing, voicing, so beyond my imagining that all I can do is give thanks. As Carol Christ has written Nature is divine. Isn’t this also what the Grandmothers have taught us?

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