Saturday, September 01, 2012

My grandfather's clock

My mother does not have much by way of a literal inheritance to leave her children,  but she tells me each of us can have one of the 'precious' items from our childhood that now take pride of place in her living room. 
‘I don’t want you to fight over them,’ she said when I visited last week.  

I don’t see that we would, at least not overtly, but there is one single item that to me stands out above all others - the grandfather clock - my grandfather’s clock, the one he sent to my mother in Australia from Holland way back in the 1960s. 

‘It’s the only thing of real value,’ my mother said.  ‘It’s an antique.’

I’m not sure I can speak for the clock's actual value but its sentimental value to my mother and to her children is great, or at least I imagine it is great for my siblings as well.  

My mother has elected to give this clock to one of my brothers.  It is the only item that she has itemised specifically for one or another of us, except for her piano, which goes to my older sister, the only one who ever learned to play properly.  That is a given. 

I don't know where the idea came from, but for several years now I have lived with the belief that one of my younger sisters coveted that grandfather clock since we were children.  

You know how it is, in those conversations children sometimes have with their parents: ‘When you die, Mum, I want you to leave me your banjo…’

In this way, my daughters divide up my jewellery - what there is of it - again not for its actual value, but for its emotional value, particularly my wedding ring.  Given the fact I have four daughters and only one ring, a ring created and cast in gold by a friend now long dead, we have thought to make a fresh cast of the ring so that all my children can have a copy.  But that’s another story.

My mother says she wants to be buried with her rings, or else they will need to be cut off.  

That’s fine, my older sister reckons, but to her it seems a waste to bury diamonds. 

There seems to be a debate between the actual value and the emotional value. To me, my mother's diamonds hold little value.  They come from the rings her second husband gave her.  I care only for the rings and things that come from my childhood, narcissistic as that might seem.  

The things that existed in my childhood that live on in my memory, they are the things I desire most:  the paintings of windmills in Holland, and of Europe in the winter, the wall hangings my mother hand embroidered, the statue of the blessed virgin Mary, and the crucifix.

I sensed my mother was a little surprised when I asked if I might have the crucifix, not for religious reasons - though I did not tell my mother that - more for its significance as an icon from my childhood that sits in my memory like a beacon.  

‘Take it down now then,’  my mother said.  ‘Write your name underneath.’  I suggested that - with help - she might like to write behind or underneath each object or painting the name of the person to whom she wants to leave it. 
‘But I prefer to give each of you something you like.  I want you each to choose.’

All except the grandfather clock, and I told my mother then how much my younger sister had always wanted that clock, she perhaps more than any one of us.  But no, my mother still wants to give it to my brother.

Why, I asked, why this brother?  

‘He never married,’ my mother said.  ‘He lives alone.’ 

A clock like this could make his home homely.  A clock like this belongs in a cosy house.  A clock like this would keep him company.

My mother went on to tell me how she had stopped the clock from working when the grandchildren came along.  She did not want any of them to get hurt playing with the brass metal weight on the end of the chains at the base of the clock. 

But my brother could reassemble it, she said.  He could get the clock working again.

And so he could measure the passage of time, tick tock, tick tock, the grandfather clock his constant companion.

I do not know what will happen to the clock or the crucifix or any of the other memorabilia of my mother’s life, but at least I can write about it, as I did once in a short story - literary license and all that: 

The girl hesitates at the front door as she pulls it shut behind, long enough to catch a glimpse of the statue of Jesus hanging from his crucifix on top of the piano in the front hall.  His feet are cracked where the nail has been driven in and although someone has tried to glue the feet back in place the plaster has split up to his knees and he now hangs loosely from his arms and swings in the updraft from the open door.

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