18: Striking Chaos

18: Striking Chaos

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Striking Chaos

Three phrases that sum up Christmas are: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, and Batteries Not Included.

~Author Unknown

My husband and I pushed our shopping cart through the department store aisles, each colourful display trumpeting festive cheer.

“Think we’ll find anything as good as the singing clock under our tree this year?” I asked.

“We can always add it to Santa’s list,” Paul said. He wasn’t really listening, too transfixed by the array of holiday chocolates and candies.

The singing clock was one of those items popular for about ten minutes in the late 1990s. The clock was supposed to chime a different bird song every hour.

My mother had clipped a magazine ad and ordered the clock for my father, who had recently entered a care home.

Paul and I had been sharing a Sunday dinner with her when she showed us the ad.

“You know how Dad loves all feathered and furred creatures, so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the sound of birds in his room,” Mom said, confidently nodding her head and pushing second helpings on anyone within range. “The ones advertised on TV sound incredibly life-like.”

She should have ordered from the TV ad because the makers of this clock from her magazine had apparently never listened to a real bird! I was there when the package finally arrived in the mail with only a day to spare before Christmas. Together we tore open the box and slipped in a handful of batteries, ready to be transported to a tranquil summer garden in the Canadian Prairies.

Our garden vision quickly wilted. Oh, the birds did “sing” on the hour all right, but instead of melodious chirps and tweets, the clock’s mechanical noises were closer to a loud pinball machine than a meadowlark. One birdcall sounded like a machine gun’s rapid fire.

“Mom, you can’t give this to Dad!” I shrieked. “He’ll think he’s under enemy attack!” At first I figured she was crying when her head tilted downward as we sat side by side at the kitchen table. But no, I soon realized, she couldn’t answer because she was laughing too hard.

“But I don’t have time to shop for a new gift!” she said through her giggles.

Another unusual detail about the clock was its face. Except for two obvious bird species, the robin and the blue jay, we couldn’t identify any other drawings. And all the names were printed in Latin.

If, when referring to songbirds, you use words like Turdis Chrysolaus or Zosterops Japonica, then you shouldn’t be reading this story. You should be filling out your application to Mensa.

“Look through the packaging,” Mom said. “Maybe there’s an English translation.”

After a thorough search no translation could be found, although I did find instructions, and here they are, exactly as written:

ADJUST THE HANDS MUST BE CLOCKWISE TO AVOID STRIKING CHAOS. IF STRIKING CHAOS, RESET CLOCK ACCORDING UP-ON. FROM PM 10:00 TO AM 5:00 SILENCE WITHOUT ANY VOICE. IF BIRD’STWITTER SOUND MODULATING, CHANGE NEW BATTIES.

I really tried, but this time it was me who simply couldn’t continue reading aloud. Along with my mom I was laughing so hard I was crying.

Of course the clock never made it to Dad’s care home, so on Christmas Day he received much of the chocolate Paul had purchased. Instead, Mom kept the clock for herself and retrieved it from the closet every time friends and relatives came for a visit. Each guest was treated to a demo, followed by waves of laughter from young and old alike. The $29.95 plus shipping was the best Christmas money Mom ever spent.

I hope to receive that clock myself one Christmas. It sure would be more fun than another fruitcake!

~Shannon Kernaghan

Leduc, Alberta

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