From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Grandfather’s Clock

They are not gone who live in the hearts of those they leave behind.

Native American Saying

In the dining room of my grandfather’s house stood a massive grandfather clock. Meals in that dining room were a time for four generations to become one. The table was always spread with food from wonderful family recipes all containing love as the main ingredient. And always that grandfather clock stood like a trusted old family friend, watching over the laughter and story swapping and gentle kidding that were a part of our lives.

As a child, the old clock fascinated me. I watched and listened to it during meals. I marveled at how at different times of the day, that clock would chime three times, six times or more, with a wonderful resonant sound that echoed throughout the house. I found the clock comforting. Familiar. Year after year, the clock chimed, a part of my memories, a part of my heart.

Even more wonderful to me was my grandfather’s ritual. He meticulously wound that clock with a special key each day. That key was magic to me. It kept our family’s magnificent clock ticking and chiming, a part of every holiday and every tradition, as solid as the wood from which it was made. I remember watching as my grandfather took the key from his pocket and opened the hidden door in the massive old clock. He inserted the key and wound—not too much, never overwind, he’d tell me solemnly. Nor too little. He never let that clock wind down and stop. When we grandkids got a little older, he showed us how to open the door to the grandfather clock and let us each take a turn winding the key. I remember the first time I did, I trembled with anticipation. To be part of this family ritual was sacred.

After my beloved grandfather died, it was several days after the funeral before I remembered the clock!

“Mama! The clock! We’ve let it wind down.”

The tears flowed freely when I entered the dining room. The clock stood forlornly quiet. As quiet as the funeral parlor had been. Hushed. The clock even seemed smaller. Not quite as magnificent without my grandfather’s special touch. I couldn’t bear to look at it.

Sometime later, years later, my grandmother gave me the clock and the key. The old house was quiet. No bowls clanging, no laughter over the dinner table, no ticking or chiming of the clock—all was still. The hands on the clock were frozen, a reminder of time slipping away, stopped at the precise moment when my grandfather had ceased winding it. I took the key in my shaking hand and opened the clock door. All of a sudden, I was a child again, watching my grandfather with his silver-white hair and twinkling blue eyes. He was there, winking at me, at the secret of the clock’s magic, at the key that held so much power. I stood, lost in the moment for a long time. Then slowly, reverently, I inserted the key and wound the clock. It sprang to life. Tick-tock, tick-tock, life and chimes were breathed into the dining room, into the house and into my heart. In the movement of the hands of the clock, my grandfather lived again.

Kathy Fasig

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