Zensights provides a space for gentle contemplation in a world filled with hectic action and stressed-out situations.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Importance of Mantle Clocks

Not all my houses have had mantles. The first house I ever lived in was a ticky-tacky subdivision model that resembled all 300 other houses on a hill in Illinois. In this little efficiency home, there was no fireplace; therefore, no mantle. A gleaming furnace hummed away all winter with no need of a messy old fireplace.

The next house I lived in belonged to my grandparents, and it was old and creaky even then. It had a large fireplace in the living room. It was put there by a Mr. Brown when he constructed the house at the turn of the century, back when fires were needed to augment whatever heating contraption was used to keep the family from freezing to death during the winters.

I loved this fireplace, even when it wasn't in use. It was a gaping, sooty hole that mystified me; a place where Santa came and occasional raccoons tried to enter the house and upset the harmony of the family. My grandmother put a gigantic, potted fern in its hollow during the summer months which served as a jungle for my dolls. My grandfather fired it up regularly during the winter time so that we could "cut the chill" and drink our bedtime cocoa next to it.
Over this fireplace was a massive mantle which held a variety of things over the years. Candle sticks, photographs, awards and trophies, but the most memorable thing about this mantle was the beautiful, hand-carved mahogany clock which rang every hour on the hour.

I remember that when I first moved into the "old house," as we called it, I was awakened many times during the night as the mantle clock sang its little song, then tolled off the hour. Even as a child in a far distant bedroom, I wondered how any rational person could sleep through all that racket. It took me several nights of wakefulness, to finally make it through all the music.

Once I remember awakening in the middle of the night, not at all sure of what was bothering me. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that the clock had wound down because my grandmother was in the hospital and not home to wind the trusted old clock. Somehow, I was aware, subconsciously at least, that the hour had not been struck and it was so unsettling to my sensibilities that I awoke from a sound sleep.

When my family made the big move to Florida and there was no need for a fireplace, we sold the old mantle clock at a garage sale and it was years before I thought of it again. It came back to me when my husband and I found and bought a home with a fireplace and mantle. My in-laws gave us a lovely, mantle clock for our first Christmas we were in the house. It wasn't the mantle clock of my youth. This clock was a complicated mechanism that whirred and spun before your eyes under the protection of a dainty, glass bell jar. Even so this mantle clock sang a classical piece, something by Tchaikovsky, I think, every hour on the hour. Every hour on the hour of those first few days of ownership, I awoke remembering the comfort I had known at an earlier time in my life.

It still amazes me how important this new clock has become. I thought it was broken when actually the battery had just run down. I recall how heartsick I was until I figured out the problem and rectified it. Now, I keep a pack of fresh batteries in the house just in case there is a "rundown," or I might find myself sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night trying to figure out what is not right.


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