Time Immemorial

Isabel Bearman Bucher

© Copyright 2001 by Isabel Bearman Bucher
Photo of Isabel, Branford, and Randy.

Branford came to rest on the old Baldwin Acrosonic piano in 1936, in a house on Indian Neck Avenue, Branford, Connecticut, built by my grandfather. My newlywed folks bought him along with a bunch of other second hand whatnots for the huge sum of $50. Advanced, he was rigged with electricity from Westinghouse, and da-da'ed in Westminster chime every quarter hour.

"Shut that damned thing off!" demanded Dad, who eventually took the clock in his hands, opened the back and threw the silencing lever.

Mamma thought Branford deeply enhanced the atmosphere of our home so she twiddled him to life again. My brother, David, and I learned that if you pushed that knob in the opposite direction, time would run backwards. And so it went: time stopped, started, and ran backwards. Paying no attention to his timely function or the human constellation that revolved around me every 24, I was only sure of endless days, toed-up from the dust like shiny pennies, and evening fireflies lighting cupped hands. I often fell asleep at night to the sound of Dad's playing and Mamma's off-key harmonizing, while Branford threw in dutiful quarter hour bongs. When things went bump in the night, he was there chiming away the worst fears.

Years went by. I married, had a family. My life then was exacting its price in car pools, good parenting practices, conspicuous consuming, climbing ladders, and whatever else people do to be successful Americans. Those were the days when I begged sincerely for a scrap of peace and solitude, and a clean garage. Branford broke, was handed down and got buried and forgotten in the heaps of stuff we accumulate through living. The old ones passed from my life into memory while life sprinted onward. Robert and I piloted the kids through their Sturm und Drang. Inevitably, the dogs died, the bird flew out, followed closely by kids, and I quit teaching. While the girls had left, their stuff did not. In a cleaning fit, I found old Branford resting in the bottom of an tattered wicker picnic basket wound in a red checkered tablecloth along with over-the-hill cockroaches. With a huge jolt, this collection of bubbled and scratched burled walnut, brass and glass, blazoned the fact that time had reduced itself from careless-endless to precious pieces. My mind turned back, numbed by the sizable past I had to illuminate. When did such a vast amount pass by without my permission or knowledge? Like fly in amber, Branford began to thaw frozen memory, turning it sweet, fairly rosy, and downright blessed. I cried.

Here begins a series of efforts to revive the dear old tick-tock and is spoken of as the costly heroic era. He got offered up to whatever ad appeared in the Yellow Pages heralding time fixing wizardry. He went to this and that gear internist; opinions were expressed, lots of money changed hands, and business cards heaped up in his back door slot. But, all failed to cure what appeared to be a deeply dead New Haven Westinghouse electric chiming clock. Then one year, I found Randy.

"This clock is very rare," the young man stated, clearly in love with old clocks. "That New Haven clock company even adapted electricity to the old wind up mechanism. It was very advanced for its time. I've only seen one other."

He kept the clock for two years, and it arrived home in time for Christmas of '98. I had visions of playing Christmas carols on the old Baldwin, singing friends, while the old resurrected timekeeper would da-da his heart out. After the first off-key chord of "Hark the Herald" and the 8:45 P.M. da-da, he froze solid in mid da. Randy took him again, and again Branford deadlocked. Then they both went through a divorce, a remarriage and a move south of Albuquerque, New Mexico where he lived in a storage unit until I absolutely begged. Randy retrieved him, sat in the garage and tinkered with time. Finally, on a blustery fall day in October, 2001, after a valorous effort, the clockmeister arrived, Branford in hand.

"I remade every gear. There's a new drive shaft, " he stated, while opening the back and palpating the genesis cog that reminded me of the Michelangelo painting of God's finger touching Adam. "And, if something happens to Branford this time, find somebody else. I'm done."

The clock ran for three months, then stopped dead. I threw his start wheel time and time again, and finally let him be dead, until I couldn't stand it anymore. "Isabel," my beleaguered husband appealed. "You cannot! Absolutely cannot tell me you are entertaining the idea ... again ... of getting this clock fixed. It is dead. Ba-bonged. Zipped. Timed out. Give it up, for gosh sakes." I couldn't. I started scouting out new cures on the Internet and in town. I ended up at a jewelers shop where a very nice young man took him in.

"Mrs. Bucher," he stated two weeks later. "I just can't get any life out of Branford. It's the small generation cell here." He pointed to a gray box thing that held the wires of life. "It's like pedaling a bike fast enough to generate enough electricity to ring the gong. Branford just can't get going fast enough. The old boy's gone."

The clock remained on the piano for months and became an ethical dilemma, for sure. He was there, but his da-da wasn't , and without the da-da, he couldn't ring my chime which tick-tocked my memories. Sometimes, no matter how right, things fail to thrive.

"Mamma," my daughter Erica stated, "Think. What happens if a mixer can't mix; a vacuum loses its poop? A computer crashes? A ..."

"What happens if I get old and can't cook!" I replied hotly.

"Oh, Mom, it's not like that clock is a person. Geez. Get real. It isn't!"

"He is a person," I whispered, "to me."

Then one day I took Old English polish, rubbed his case to a satiny patina, Windexed his face inside and out, opened his back, took a q-tip and cleaned every tooth, every shaft, every cog and nut, squirted WD-40 with careless abandon, wound the "manual wind," just for old time's sake, and finally, holding my breath, twiddled the cog.

He began that purr; the electrics started flowing, things were humming. All the round dohickeys were meshing. Heat from the little electrons warmed his camel hump.

"HE'S ALIVE!" I cried to the empty house. Then he chimed nine. It was three.

Sometimes, life gives you small little miracles. Branford has been da-da'ing for over a year now. On still, dark nights, he's there, a dutiful, sheltering life force. That's when I hear Dad playing and Mom's off-key harmonizing. Every morning I go into the dim livingroom, feel the warmth of his head, while the coffee perks. During the day, I stop to honor his da-da-da-da because I know every fifteen, I've smiled, felt joy and compassion. I've thought of my husband, my grown daughters, my friends and relive the fact that I love, and am loved. I recount how grateful I am for another healthy day, snafus, for creative energy, for thought, and for my life.

Branford. Time immemorial. Time immortal.

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