Guest post by Joy Wooderson
I believe one of the first sounds I heard upon arrival into the world was the chiming of “the clock.” It had become a part of my family six years previously, a wedding gift to my parents from the leadership of the church where my father served as assistant minister.
I’ve often wished the purchaser had selected something with soft, melodious tones, or a clock that chimed only on the hour. Alas, this one bongs three times on the quarter hour, six times on the half-hour, nine times on the three-quarter mark, and then once per hour. It gets very noisy toward noon or midnight.
For twenty-one years it hung on the wall in our dining room in Durban, South Africa. I can still hear my mother’s instructions, “Put the key in each hole and wind the clock and the chimes seven times—don’t over wind it.” And so it kept going.
When we decided to emigrate to the U.S.A., there was no hesitation about carefully packing the clock and shipping it along with a few other treasured possessions. It belonged in our family as much as my sister or I.
I inherited the clock some years later. There is no manufacturer’s name written with a flourish across its face. A small eagle design and some obscure code signify that it originated in Germany. The well-intentioned efforts of various cleaners resulted in a worn-looking pendulum, and its eight-inch diameter face and bronze rim reflect its age. However, for over seventy years it has done its job on whichever wall it was placed—kept time and bonged loudly through the day and night.
To my surprise, I found it resonated with something deep inside me. Each bong, every glance at the time, connected me to my roots, evoking a sense of familiarity that brought comfort and a feeling of belonging. With each move to a new home or a different city, I lovingly unhooked the pendulum, fastened the key to the inside, and stuffed the casing with soft packaging. Furniture and boxes could be scattered untidily all over the room, but as soon as the clock was hung, I was at home. I felt safe.
Unfortunately, this wonderful clock has a major downside—it keeps my guests awake. I have become so used to its chiming that its sound rarely penetrates my consciousness, and never at night. So I formed the habit of stopping the clock whenever I have overnight company. I try to do this at a convenient hour, because to not do so means standing in front of the clock and moving the hands through each quarter hour while patiently, or impatiently, waiting for it to go through its succession of chimes. Much better to stop it at 8 p.m. and restart it at 8 a.m. This disruption never really bothered me, as each visit was short term.
Then I had a guest stay for three months. I stopped the clock at 7:05 and there the hands remained, the pendulum stilled, the chimes silent. Every time I entered my house, I glanced up out of habit and saw—7:05. The strange quiet began to bother me. Something significant was missing in my life. I longed for its comforting, steady tick-tock and those booming chimes.
When I returned from the airport after my friend left, I flung my purse on the table and headed straight for the clock. Within minutes I heard the familiar sounds—many times—as I reset the chimes and the time. It really is quite noisy. But in a day or so I again became so accustomed to the sound I hardly noticed it. In fact, the only time it bothers me now is during a two-hour television mystery when it bongs nine times in the middle of crucial dialogue.
This morning I sat on my screened porch and sipped coffee. The sun’s rays warmed my feet while a gentle, early-fall breeze stirred the leaves. My plants that had thrived through the summer surrounded me. A feeling of peace and tranquility came over my soul. Then through the open door into the house I heard eight loud bongs. I sighed contentedly.
All was well in my world.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Joy Wooderson emigrated to the US in 1971. She writes creative nonfiction and is the author of Finding Joy: One Woman’s Journey Back to Faith and Like a Hermit Crab in Search of a Home. Both are ebooks available from Amazon Kindle. Her essays have appeared in journals and anthologies.
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