Ticktock, we find our 'dream' clock

We had to have it. Just had to have it. After all, who knows when we'd ever get back to Germany again, right? And I'd always wanted a cuckoo clock, since the time I was eight years old and feasted my ears and eyes on my best friend's mother's warbling timepiece. My frequent hints that true class might be measured by a cuckoo clock of our own had fallen on my parents' deaf ears. "When you grow up, buy your own cuckoo clock," my father suggested a number of times.

And now, here I was: grown up. The owner of a clockless kitchen. And standing in the biggest cuckoo-clock shop I could ever imagine, smack dab in the middle of the Black Forest area of Germany, a region renowned for its cuckoo clocks.

"How about this number?" my husband asked hopefully.

I watched the cuckoo announce the hour while a trio of wooden dancers frolicked below the bird. "Too festive," I said. "I couldn't take a polka every half-hour."

We wandered on and stood before a scale-model White House cuckoo clock. Craig raised his eyebrows at me and laughed. "Too political," he said.

We discovered something about each other that day. Until then, I'd had no idea he would prefer rather large, rather ornate, rather musical cuckoo clocks. Until then, he had no idea I'd much rather have a very small, very plain, simply-announcing-the-hour type of cuckoo clock.

After a few words had passed between us ("ostentatious" and "too expensive" from me; "rinky-dink" and "miserly" from him), we began to negotiate in a way most spouses might recognize. A few small deer carvings for no dancing dolls. Fancy weights for no music. A few wooden ivy leaves for no bright paint. As we haggled, we worked our way in from the front of the shop (where the White House cuckoo clock hung in all its glory) and away from the back of the shop (where the tiny plastic battery-operated numbers lurked) to the middle of the shop.

Our son and his wife had long since meandered off into town, knowing, from weary experience, that our little clock-buying expedition was going to take a while. When they returned, Craig and I were the thrilled owners of a nice-but-not-flashy cuckoo clock. It was considerably pricier than I'd been hoping for, but I agreed that it was the chance of our lifetime to get what we wanted. Originality, we said, was worth the price.

In the Frankfurt airport on our way home, Craig was detained and had to submit to a search. "This could have been a knife," the guard said solemnly when the package my husband toted had been opened and the pendulum inspected.

It was a long flight home, with many complicated layovers and plane changes. The entire way Craig held the cuckoo clock. "It's too fragile," he said, "and too unique, to take chances with."

When we finally got home, the first thing we did - before we checked our answering machine or rummaged through the mountain of mail - was to hang our clock on the kitchen wall and listen to it cuckoo a few dozen times. Soon, we were on the phone, inviting our friends over to see our special Black Forest cuckoo clock.

As time went by, we continued to beam at the timepiece whenever the little bird popped out to announce the hour. "It was a big hassle," Craig said, frequently, "but I'm so glad we splurged. It's one of a kind! Not everyone can say he owns a Black Forest cuckoo clock." And I whole-heartedly agreed.

One morning during breakfast, I flipped idly through a sales catalog. My eyes focused on a picture, and then I devoured the copy below it. "Oh no," I groaned to Craig. And then, again, "Oh no! You're not going to believe it: The exact same clock as ours. Identical! It even says 'Black Forest cuckoo clock.' And for $50 less than what we paid for it."

"No," my husband said. "It can't be! Let me see that."

We just sat for a while, our eyes traveling from the clock on the wall to the clock in the catalog. We shook our heads and laughed a little. "So much for a unique, one-of-a-kind, one-chance-in-a-lifetime souvenir," I muttered.

Finally, Craig said, "When you get right down to it, it's not the clock, it's the memories that are unique. You can't buy a memory from a catalog."

And that's what I'm going to choose to believe, too. Any time now.

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