Grandfather's Clock: LESSONS IN TIME

The old clock was a gift to my father from his father many years ago, perhaps in the late 1950s.

My father was a young businessman, and he owned a Ben Franklin Store. He had three brothers, and at one time or another every one of them owned a “five and dime” variety store. The variety store was a new and exciting retail concept, and they were on the leading edge of an economic change.  

So it was my grandfather that gave my father this old clock. It was almost new then. The clock loomed high on the back wall of Grandfather's store, near the town square of Lamesa, Texas.  If one listened, the sound of the “tick tock” could be heard. At Grandfather’s store, we watched that clock with interest, because it told us when we could take breaks, go to lunch and best of all go home at the end of the day.

My father got the clock as a gift from Grandfather, and promptly put it high on the back wall overlooking his store in Dalhart, Texas, high in the Panhandle of Texas. In our family we were taught that “time is money,” and that we should be diligent never to waste a moment. To waste a moment was to throw away opportunity for life. So that clock high on the wall was a convenience, but also a message to every customer. “Time is important.” Every customer could look and check the time. Father later moved the clock to his new-bought store in Ft Worth (White Settlement, Texas) years later. By then I was a teenager. We, as energetic and creative kids, had an idea to shorten those long days working at my Dad’s store. The $2.50 an hour we got was earned hour by hour. We would beat the system with that old clock. After coming to work to open at 7:45 a.m. and working all day, my dad closed on the pendulum beat at  8 p.m. sharp. Me and my buddies, who sometimes came to make a few dollars, were generally pretty tired at the end of a 12-hour day and eager to get out to eat supper and play.

My friend, Mark Garrison, and I had an idea. 

When Dad stepped out of the store to go make a bank deposit, we got the old, tall wooden ladder, climbed up it, opened the glass door and pushed the hour hand forward a half hour. “We’re gonna get out early today!” we laughed with glee. We figured that we had beaten the system.

After a while, Dad walked back in.  He didn’t let on, but he noticed immediately. He was pretty smart, and we didn’t figure on him looking at his watch to verify the time on the old clock. 

Mark called out: “Mr. Boothe, when the clock hits 8 p.m., I need to go home to my mother right away.”

Dad nodded, and at 8 sharp he said, “Time to lock up!” Just as we hurried out the door, my father called out, “Hey boys, be sure you are here early in the morning, because we are going to open on the minute of the old clock. If you aren’t here, I will dock your pay.” He smiled. We knew that he knew what we didn’t want him to know. We had pushed that minute hand forward 30 minutes. The next morning we had to get up and open the store a good half hour early. We grumbled and then smiled and then laughed about how my dad had turned the table on our trick. 

It taught us something about trying to manipulate time.  It simply doesn’t work, never has worked.

When my dad retired and closed his store back in the 1970s, I asked for that old clock, and he gave it to me. It hung on the wall of my house, and I used the old brass key to wind it up every week  until about 1999. I loved that old clock. It gave some evidence of stability. It brought memories. It connected me with my grandfather, my father, and my wife and kids. Then I was traveling around the world, and somehow the clock ended up at my son’s house in Dallas. There it hangs on the kitchen wall, still with that slow ticking sound. There my grandkids have learned how to set and wind up the old clock. Amazing that for almost 70 years that old clock still brings a regular “tick tock” and a sense of stability to life. I recently told my grandsons the story of that old clock, which has now touched five generations of Boothe boys. I wonder if my grandkids have heard the old song, “My Grandfather’s Clock.” I plan to teach it to them one day....if time allows.  

Get that phrase, "If time allows?"  As if time is a master of existence. 

Time, it seems like .... no, let me rephrase that. Time passes faster the older we become. When we are young, everything seems to take forever. Like taking forever for those last 30 minutes to pass when we wanted to get off of work. When I was in my 30s,  I can recall dying my hair gray above the temples because, as a young bank president, I could not wait to look older. Now at the age of 70 I don’t welcome the gray or white hairs. In fact, my daughter tends to die my hair dark every month or so.  Seems like the time between “hair coloring days” gets shorter every time. It seems that every day, week, month and year passes like lightening at 70 years of age. 

 I have also learned that we can’t trick father time, the old ticking of age keeps happening. We can move the hands forward or backward, but the essential element of time moves on, it keeps us honest. My mom is 95 now, and she often swears that she is still 35, but she smiles as if to say, “Can’t trick time.”  Thus, she finally gave up and stopped coloring her hair jet black. Her grey hair looks natural and “right” for her 95 years, and she brags, “I’ve earned every one of my precious gray hairs.”  She is trying to help me accept time's gift of more and more gray hair. 

Recently I have wondered if time is a man-made thing, or is it a new dimension, like the time/space dimension often discussed by physicists? I do not know. But there is something that happens in our perception of the passing of events and changes in life. For some reason, that old clock brings me comfort, the memories and connection with my grandparents, long gone now. The memories of my dear father, also long gone. And to know that my grandkids also have a connection with the continuum of that old clock. as the pendulum steadily swings back and forth.

Something about a “tick tock” is comforting, a repetition that suggests order.