A hurricane couldn't stop it

BUY it, mom! It's so goofy!'' The $3 price tag was another reason to consider the reproduction Black Forest cuckoo clock on the yard sale table. A low-priced clock isn't easy to find nowadays. Why were they selling?

``We were given two.'' And the low price? I've seen cuckoos advertised at $65 and up, but then prices at this sale were generally low: a doll cradle at $1.50, a locking wrench for $2.

I still hesitated.

``What if it doesn't work?''

``It works, it works. Anyway, cuckoo clocks are simple. We can make it work.'' We carried away wrench, cradle, and clock.

Fortunately, I hadn't considered the challenge of hanging the clock. It needs to be about eight feet up, with clear wall space below so that the weights can descend smoothly.

And, unless its caretaker is blessed with a tidy memory, it should hang in a well-traveled way, for those weights must be hauled aloft regularly. I didn't know enough to ask how often. We were fortunate to have gotten a 24-hour clock. Eight-day cuckoos come for a hefty price; 12-hour ones for a pittance.

When a neglected clock stops, it's often necessary to correct the strike as well as move the hands. I feel apologetic to the bird when I do this. It is accustomed to a routine, popping out with its call at the half hour, and one, two, three cucks on the hour, followed by 29 minutes of rest. When I force it to strike one, one, two, one, three, one, I seem to hear it breathing hard; cooperative, but not used to the intensive exertion.

We hung the clock by the kitchen door into the dining room. It was an immediate hit. Visitors look up in delight when the bird announces the time. Grandchildren dote on it, begging to be elevated to look the cuckoo in the eye. Slight adjustments did have to be made to it, and, like our cars, our oven timer, our toaster, it has quirks known only to initiates: The hour hand must be pressed in tightly or it just dangles pointing to six.

Cuckoo's call reaches to barn and garden, where it's welcome, and the drowsy learn the hour without opening their eyes. Indeed, cuckoo's performance -- its usefulness and pleasure without consuming costly energy -- are a source of pride.

It took Hurricane Gloria to show me yet another facet of the clock. I sat beneath it on countdown Friday, reading fast by the fading daylight, near certain we'd lose electricity. Outdoors winds built up speed, rivers of leaves blew by horizontally. Rain pounded the ground. An occasional loud crack meant nature had pruned another limb from willow or maple.

I felt tense, wary. We were unlikely to have serious damage but the meter was running, adding up hours, days of cleanup, of doing chores the hard way, and of reluctant decisions to be made about rapidly warming foodstuffs. A fallen branch plastered wet leaves across the window, bringing instant twilight, and a crash, followed by the depressing sound of smashing glass, indicated considerable damage to the greenhouse roof. What next, I wondered.

``Cuckoo.''

Bless its heart, the little bird was on the job, calm, dependable, unswayed by forecasts, anxieties, winds, rains, or flying debris. ``Ticktock, ticktock'' in steady rhythm, as if to note with Shakespeare that time and the hour do run through the roughest day and, it chirped at the electric clock, some stay on the job.

The reproof fell on rocky ground. That clock had downed tools at 40 minutes past one, and languished there for four days. In the dark of night, cuckoo let us know we could stay abed another welcome hour or two before we all rose to tackle another storm-skewed day.

Goofy you may be, my inexpensive avian, quirky and needing daily attention, but your amusing habits, your long-ranging call, and your stolid dependability in adversity have won you respect not awarded more fickle timepieces. If another yard sale prove generous, we might even buy you a companion.

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