About time – Ding-dings and Bong-bongs

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

When I search files looking for a ragtag of information I need for a column, I frequently find something I don’t even remember writing. I have all sorts of ideas, and the sudden discovery of notes or references may give me a start. Or not.

I’ve mentioned the tyrants that live in our house. Clocks. Real clocks, mechanically driven by weights or springs, not electric or battery-driven. Purists cringe to hear someone call an electronic device a clock.

We’re aficionados by way of having accepted most of Dave’s family’s many clocks. His mother bought them on impulse, at estate or farm sales, and passed most of them on to her mechanical son. He delves fearlessly into their innards to clean, oil, and resuscitate them when they quit, of course, being the sole member of the family who has the skills – and the nerve – to do that.

A couple of them were probably DOA when he got them, and we have given away several to friends and daughters, but we’ve wound about as many as we have retired.

You’ve met the case-clock or grandfather’s clock that has stood in a corner of our living- or great-room since about 1980, and the pretty little wooden hall clock that replaced the big box clock that finally committed suicide, hurling itself to the ceramic floor.

In addition, there are a ship’s-bell banjo clock, called Chelsea for the company that made it, the little French desk clock that doesn’t want to run anymore, and a genuine Black Forest cuckoo clock we picked out ourselves in Germany.

We call the grandfather clock “Grunt” because he usually clatters and, well, grunts when Dave winches the big weights up from the floor. Trust me, that clock is right on, all the time. Dave estimates it loses less than 30 seconds between Sunday morning windings.

Chelsea is the graceful ship’s-bell, and you have to concentrate if you’re telling time with it in the wee hours. There are six 4-hour watches per day: 8 p.m. to midnight (first watch); midnight to 4 a.m. (mid-watch or black watch); 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. (morning watch); 8 a.m. to 12 (forenoon watch); 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (afternoon); 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (evening).

Its clear little bell says “ding” for midnight-plus a half hour; two dings for 1 a.m.; three dings at 1:30 a.m.; four dings for 2 a.m., etc.

Getting the drift? The last bells in each hour strike 8, at noon and midnight. And how do you discover which dings are day-time and which are night?

Simple. Look out the window. The night watches will be dark; daytime will be light.

Dave has muted, gently, Grunt’s heavy chimes, but you can still hear that solemn “Gong.” Grunt also has a set of Westminster chimes that ring on each quarter hour. That means it starts its little concert at noon with “Ding, ding, ding, ding…” and goes on to add one more “ding” for the half hour.

And you didn’t think you could learn anything from a driveway newspaper.

We got some help from the clock repair guy at Braelinn when we decided to put Chelsea on the front hall shelf from which the old box-clock jumped or was pushed. It hadn’t run in many years, and lost a spring in repair, so it was an expensive renovation.

But what fun it is to have these living creatures telling the hours of our lives.

We have most of them ticking and striking ’round the clock, and they make us laugh at least every day. And no, they don’t awaken us when they strike at night.

Old friends stopped for the night on their way to a Florida vacation last winter, and when they left, I asked Dave if he thought they had slept well.

That’s when it hit me: We had not stopped the clocks, or at least their chiming, the night our friends were here. They must have had an awful time.

Last week the clocks began to rehearse their parts, and happened to choose the noon hour when we were in the kitchen for lunch. At first, I scarcely heard it, but as the bells kept up their slightly syncopated rhythm, the music became almost sublime. I think Grunt started it; he has so many notes that he was still striking when the others were finished. Chelsea starts chiming the hour a little bit faster than Grunt, but the last strikes sound as though they are not going to have the energy to get through the final coda.

Did I mention the German cuckoo clock? If I start that pretty fellow, his “Coo-coo! Coo-coo!” holds its own, weaving in and around the solemn gongs of his colleagues.

You don’t think I should be stern with them, do you? They do make us smile, and trying to translate the “ding-dings” and the “coo-coos” into hours of the night should put anyone to sleep.

Write me at SallieS@Juno.com