A Swingin' Granddam

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THE esoteric situation in North Hatley, Quebec, is swingin'. I feel like reporting that the only digital tall clock in Canada now has a pendulum. This news will delight some, but there are still those who view askance the whole field of glorious opportunity that includes digital tall clocks and other chimerical absurdities. Accordingly, I offer thanks at appropriate intervals for Henri Delorme. The only digital tall clock in Canada sits in Henri's front room waiting to pounce on any visitor who doesn't believe in impossible things, and who looks askance and asks, ``Why?''

It was a rainy day some five or six years ago when some pine boards in my workshop challenged me, and I put them to good use. We have a family heirloom of note, a tall clock that came down through the generations since the English garrisoned Manhattan Island. The clock was made in Enniscorthy, Ireland, some time previous to 1664, by the late Richard Freeman, whose workshop gegen "uber St. Mary's Protestant Church may still be seen, but it is now a sweetie shop. An early craftsman in timepieces, Mr. Freeman made the brass ``works'' and then fashioned the plain but adequate wooden case. He sold the clock to an officer of the British Army, who was soon ordered to New York. It has become my duty to wind Old Timer every Saturday night - something I do ceremoniously with a respectful thought for all those who have done the same for three centuries.

It was thus on that rainy day that I made a case for a tall clock, patterned on Old Timer, but as I am not a clockmaker, I went to a store and bought a small bedside digital electric thing and stuck it up to tell the time. The whole purpose of a tall clock case is to give room so the weights that power the mechanism may answer gravity's demand and descend.

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A tall clock should be a full week tall. Tall clocks have come to be known as grandfather clocks, and except as antiques, grandfather clocks have been superseded since the spring-fed movement was invented. In short, I now had the original and only digital tall clock, and the jolly times began when folks would look askance and ask why.

When Henri came to visit, he didn't do that. He looked up at my clock, laughed like a good one, and said, ``Now I've seen everything!'' I gave him the clock on the spot, knowing I could make myself another if I should miss it, and since then Henri has had all the fun of answering all those who ask, ``Pourquoi?'' I was delighted not long ago to have a post card from Henri saying he had added the Westminster Chimes to Granddam, as he calls the clock, and suggesting we ride up to hear them.

We are just home from doing that. The tape recorder that plays the chimes is concealed behind the digital part, and my pine adds a resonance that suggests a Cremona fiddle, at least, so that when the chimes desist, everything continues to vibrate for a while. By Henri's armchair is a button he can push, and by allowing 10 seconds he can make the chimes hit right on the dot.

The township of North Hatley has been having some political unrest. Being at first a resort community on lovely Lake Massawippi, it has grown until developers threaten, and a citizens' group has risen to protect the quiet ways that were. I would guess that, about as here in Maine, the horse was stolen before the barn got locked, but because Henri is a former town councilman, a lot of folks have been coming to him for advice. During the conversations he plays the Westminster Chimes on his digital tall clock. This adds a whimsical touch which politics in other places could well employ.

Now Henri has done even better. He has added the pendulum and two authoritative weights that hang down on gilt chains. True, the door on the front of the tall case has to be opened before this addition becomes visible, but the amazement which revelation engenders is worth that small effort.

Besides a why, some people now inquire with a how. Henri's answers vary from time to time, but the right answer is a small motor on doorbell voltage, making the pendulum swing with sedate dignity and fearful conviction. None of this has the slightest connection with telling time, but a great many people continue to suppose that a clock's proper function is chronological. Henri plans to remake my little front door and put in some stained glass so the pendulum becomes visible.

We discussed the day, long in the future, when archaeologists from Jupiter or Mars come to study the defunct Earthlings, and find Granddam in the British Museum, stopped precisely at the moment of doom.

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