I like clocks. Those of you who know me well know that I do not like being late. I stay on time by watching the clock … in a good way. As a child I liked clocks, too. I liked to take them apart.
Sadly, I wasn’t very good at putting them back together. I took apart both electric clocks and the wind up variety alarm clock. What did my mother think? Were they old clocks that didn’t work anymore? You and I both know that workaday clocks generally don’t just wear out. Maybe she gave them to me to play with? Or maybe I just took them to the basement without asking.
Asking permission wasn’t my strong point, but it certainly helped me learn. One day I was in the basement at the house on fourth avenue, perhaps twelve years old. I had read about electromagnets. The book described them as a length of wire wrapped around an iron rod. The basement had both. Well, maybe not an iron rod, but there was a nail. And, OK, we had a length of wire, only maybe a foot long at most. I wrapped the wire tightly around the nail. The book talked about running electricity through the wire to energize the iron to make a magnet. I didn’t have a battery, but there was a 110 volt outlet right there on the work bench. One end of the foot long wire would fit into one hole of the outlet, another end into the other. What could go wrong? I plugged the wires in.
The basement got dark.
My mother and grandmother were upstairs in the kitchen, which also went dark. I could hear them talking, looking out the window at the neighbor’s house to see if their lights had gone out, too. It had to have been the power company, because they hadn’t done anything. That day I learned that it takes a lot more than a foot of wire and a nail to make an electromagnet. As a point of comparison, a little electric motor that I took apart must have a hundred feet of fine wire, not a foot of lamp cord.
Back to the clocks: They always fascinated me. Clocks measure something I cannot explain, something that Albert Einstein tells me is all relative. My friend Jim loved clocks and watches, too. When he died, some of the most important things to me were his timepieces.
Jim displayed his stepfather’s (Franklin Corser) pocket watch on his bookshelf. It never worked, just held a place of honor. It still doesn’t run. Maybe someday it will. For now it holds a place of honor in a display dome on my desk at home.
Jim also owned a Longines watch, one with a small diamond at each hour mark. He bought it while in the Navy serving in the Mediterranean. There’s one thing about this watch that’s irksome, especially compared to any new watch today, or even a Timex from my high school days. It’s fragile.
After Jim had worn it for years, it disappeared, I don’t recall when. He said it didn’t work anymore. I missed seeing the watch, as I liked the looks of it. I must have mentioned it to him, because a couple of years before he moved into a nursing home, he told me he wanted that watch repaired and that nobody in Jamestown would touch it. He brought it to Rochester where a local watchmaker overhauled it. When we picked it up, Jim gave it to me.
For several years I wore the watch proudly. Then, one day on my regular Saturday morning walk I saw a huge flock of crows in a tree. Their noise was almost deafening. Thinking that I could play with them, I clapped my hands, startled the crows, and they went quiet for a moment. Cool! I clapped again, louder. Again, this time trying to emulate a gunshot. The crows dutifully quieted at each clap. I enjoyed that bit of control over nature.
My surprise awaited.
Shortly after playing with the crows I realized that the watch had stopped. The jeweler confirmed that vigorous clapping was not a good idea for this antique watch.
A couple of years after that repair, I dropped the watch while putting it on. The crown flew off, and the second hand (a really tiny thing) come off, too. I managed to find all the parts and took it to the repair shop again. Recently the watch started losing time, so back to the jeweler and another overhaul.
Even with all those inconveniences, expense, and fragility, when it’s dress-up time, that’s the piece of jewelry I go for.
Jim’s third timepiece was a clock that never ran in the forty years I watched it sit on his end table. This was an anniversary clock, the kind that needs a winding only once a year. He may have purchased it about the same time as the watch. I really don’t know the provenance. It’s clearly one made in the early fifties, before that style of clock went cheap.
About eight years after Jim left us I finally saved up enough cash to have the anniversary clock repaired. The clock repair shop was so far behind it took them about six months to get to it, but after as long as it had sat on my desk another six months was nothing. The clock is now prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle in our living room. The spinning pendulum still catches my eye now and then.
As for my love of clocks, there’s the clock on the wall that I built, two clocks on the computer desk, three in the kitchen, two in the bathroom, and several more around the house. We are relatively aware of the time.
Mostly I know it’s time to go out for coffee. Are you open some morning next week?
PS … The Longines is in the shop again this month. Sigh.