Centuries Old Heirloom – Writing 101

Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure

Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

The curves aren’t quite in the same shape they were years ago. And the keys that turn it over have to be gently placed in their opening for fear that something might pop out and start a long journey into finding parts for something that is clearly older than I am, older than anyone I know. It was once the center piece of the town I was born in having fallen into the hands of my relatives long before I was even a twinkle in a conversation my parents might have had about when they were going to start a family.

The face has grown this greyish patina over the decades, no one has ever wanted to put any type of cleanser near it. The wooden frame has been gone over with mineral oil and nothing more than a cloth. My banjo clock is about 300 years old and only functions when it gets the urge. More obstinate than any child, if you don’t have it resting against the wall at just the correct angle, the pendulum doesn’t sway as it should. The weight going in directions the builder never intended.

For years it hang in my grandparents kitchen. This clock was once the official timepiece of Lowell, Massachusetts. How my great-great grandparents came up with the funds to purchase it, no one knows. They were dairy farmers in Maine at the time. It was a good living, but not one that allowed for people to just run around buying crazy things. Who knows, maybe they traded something for it? My clock the result of several gallons of milk changing hands.

Every year someone would tell me this clock was to be mine when I got older. Plenty of my family has been born in Massachusetts, but I’m the only one from Lowell. So history was on my side. For years I watched the clock be taken apart and serviced. The gears oiled, tiny adjustments made to the inner workings. My participation limited to watch, no touch! As the years went by I would stare at that clock whenever I visited, wondering when it would follow me home.

That day came eventually, my grandparents selling their home to move into a Adult Residential Community (nursing home for those who aren’t being told to leave their homes!). I wrapped in up in blankets and put it inside my car, resting it across the backseat. Nothing else was going home with me. For that three hours drive I kept looking at it strapped safely in the backseat of my Volvo. Tied in like a child restraint would hold some other precious cargo.

It hangs in the formal dining room of my house. But it doesn’t work for longer than an hour. Somewhere along the lines my memory failing with whatever tricks my grandfather used to keep it going. Maybe that was his last joke on me, learn to fix this yourself. My own father not knowing anything about it other than, “It’s your clock!” I’ve called the Smithsonian to see if they could suggest a person in my area. I’m not mailing it anywhere, too big a risk.

So I fool around with 17th Century technology while wondering if I can ever get it to tell me time in the 21st. It’s passed through the hands of my relatives, people I’ve never met, people who are only names in a list. The mystery of why it came into their lives as interesting as the clock itself.

I don’t know what I’ll do with it. The person it was intended for having joined those other relatives before she had a chance to watch her father spend an afternoon a month cleaning this thing. It would have been one of the few stories I would have been able to tell her about my grandfather that didn’t make me cringe by the time I was finished. (although I will give him credit for taking such good care of it, he could have just tossed it in a corner or given it away.) I would have enjoyed teaching her how to fix this clock so that she one day could pass it on to a child of her own. Maybe I would have been lucky enough to teach them both.  [I know that is why my ex gave me a watch when we started dating.  It is also one of my most treasured things, I still wear it daily.  Even my mother notices when I don’t have it on!  That’s when she asks if I’m alright.  But that’s a different story…]

Maybe I’ll donate it back to the town of my birth, Lowell has tried for years to overcome the reputation as just another rundown former textile mill. And to me it has always been more than the depiction “The Fighter” staring Mark Walhburg and Christian Bale left in the minds of the country. I’ve enjoyed going on the canal tours whenever I visit, going to the Greek bakery and laughing when my parents remind me of how much snow was falling the day I was born (a foot!). The museums in the area might like to have something from that time as well.

This clock is a living history of people. So many hands have touched it over the years before it came to me. Just knowing that there was a point where my grandfather’s grandfather probably uttered some of the same misguided curses while working on it makes me smile. The horse drawn carriage that must have carried it from Maine to Worchester, MA a story in itself.

I love this clock for all it represents, and I feel sad for the things that it could have represented in the future.

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