The first grandfather clock to stand in Beau and Mamie’s (my grandparents) home was housed in a highly polished mahogany casing: it kept the household on a strict routine, a week at a time. The clock chimed the quarter, half and each hour with majestic tone, reverberating through the house. It stood in my grandfather’s study facing the hallway an imposing piece to greet visitors.
When the second clock arrived I was visiting my grandparents, and privy to the almost sacred process of getting the clock working and placed in situ. The clock was a birthday gift from Beau to Mamie who received it with such delight clocks became an annual addition to their home.
Having organised the second clock for my grandmother’s birthday Beau was deaf to Mamie’s decrees for less fussing. While he fussed meticulously Mammie huffed and fumed, vociferously.
The clock arrived in a coffin-shaped packing case, and as I soon learned another name for grandfather clocks was coffin clocks. I did not like the reference to coffins and asked if we could not call them by that name. Once the packing case was pried open, Beau extricated the instruction booklet which he read from cover to cover. Ultimately Mamie would get her new clock but until it was assembled and set in place it was Beau’s sheer delight to savour each piece as it emerged from the tissue paper.
The study clock stood on solid timber floor boards that were stable and level. The second clock was to stand in the carpeted dining room cum lounge area, initially compromising both its stability and how level it was. Until the heavy piece had settled into the carpet the clock could not be set to task as the delicate movement required both stability and a level surface on which to stand in order to keep good time. The clock could take weeks to settle into the carpet and until then Mamie had to wait, a skill she never mastered. However, those weeks gave her time to ponder whether that was the best spot for the clock.
While Beau was tireless in his pursuit of Mamie’s happiness there came a time when even he needed to retreat to his study and take up his tapestry; sometimes making more progress on his needlepoint than getting the clock up and running.
In time there were almost as many grandfather clocks as rooms in their home … and then Mamie found grandmother clocks. These quaint smaller versions although freestanding seemed to sit rather than stand and emanated an impertinence, ticking and chiming sotto voce, in contrast to their more robust counterparts, the grandfather clocks. The two grandmother clocks were Mamie’s personification: small, neatly made and ornate – exuding presence and impudence. The grandfathers were just clocks, the grandmothers were personalities.
When I stayed with my grandparents I slept on the divan in a cozy corner of Beau’s study from where I could lie in bed and see the tapestry on which Beau was working … and listen to the grandfather clock chime every quarter, half and hour through the night.
Just as the clocks kept routine in the home, Beau was stoic in his clock-winding routine that happened at the same time on the same day of each week. I was allowed to remove the small key from a ‘secret’ compartment in the clocks. Each year a clock maker carried out the intricate maintenance required to keep all clocks well oiled and the chimes tuned.
Beau and Mamie were still alive in 1980 when the MOTH and I married and gave us a sum of money as a wedding gift. We purchased a clock: not a grandfather or mother clock but a small wall clock. Thirty six years on and it still keeps good time. It reminds me of Beau and Mamie and the constancy of their devotion to each other.