Clocks are the pulse, the heartbeat of a home. Not digital clocks, which stare at us with graceless, icy green (blue, red, or orange) numbers. Or other mute types of clocks that merely mark minutes.
No, I'm talking ticking, tocking, chiming clocks – whether antique or reproduction – which practically sing the hours of the day and night.
For decades I've lived with such a clock, one that once sat upon the mantle in the parlor of a lacy Victorian house.
Father bought the timepiece, which is a little larger than a toaster, at an auction in the early 1960s. Back then, things Victorian had all the appeal of avocado kitchen appliances today. Victorian was hopelessly passé.
Even he, a lover of most things Victorian, didn't want the clock. His bids were on the small bronze horse figure that sat atop the clock. He got both for $2.
The clock's "engine" of brass gears, rods, and wheels needed a tuneup. The painted wooden case also required Father's expertise in refinishing. Restored inside and out, the black clock – with six, tiny Corinthian columns pretending to support the top – was given an honored and out-of-harm's-way place on the old oak upright piano, a relic from my grandmother's home.
At first we gathered on the hour, not for the news, but to hear the chime count for us what we already knew. Harder to catch was the little bell sounding the half hour.
The novelty faded almost as quickly as the sounds of bell and chime, and the clock assumed its role of domestic heartbeat.
Tick-tock-tick-tick-tick-tock. Minutes become chimed hours as the clock measures life, paces its keepers, and comforts them at night:
Without a mouth, the clock tells us when it's time to hustle for work, settle down and get to bed, turn on the television for a favorite show, leave for the dentist, call Auntie, stop practicing violin lessons, check the roast, or attend to the myriad details we call daily life.
Some visitors complain: "How can you live with that thing tick-tocking all the time? Isn't that chime annoying?"
To these people, the clock makes a mere mechanical noise, nothing more than the hum of a furnace or an air conditioner, depending on the season, or the barely perceptible swish-swish of an overhead fan in a warm bedroom.
Those of us with ticking clocks find comfort in the constant tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock. This is a sound of domestic peace, order, and contentment, much the same as a purring cat.
Perhaps the original owners of this clock sensed this same comfort, especially at night. Waking fretful from a troubling dream to a void as black and as deep as a cave, the distant tick-tock-tick-tock and soft chime told them that their world – the marble mantle, the flowery rug, and the velvet upholstery on walnut chairs – was just the same as when they had gone to bed.
I suppose, if the clock receives good care, this faithful device could be the heartbeat of an antiques-loving household when the 21st century becomes the 22nd.