After the calendar has turned over so many years, you get to thinking about what time you have left. You’re more conscious of it and become increasingly aware of its passing and its value. You know, it’s like a kid getting paid for a summer job. One hundred dollars -- wow! This will buy everything he ever wanted! But after he gets down to a few crumpled dollar bills and a few coins it dawns on him that it’s not going to last forever.
I had the privilege of visiting a home for a little while the other afternoon. It was spotless and nicely decorated with antiques that had been handed down in the family for over a hundred years. There was a ticking pendulum clock that appeared to be really old. I got to thinking about our clock like that. It was bought one hundred and two years ago this month when my daddy was born. All this took me back to when I was little and Daddy’s Uncle Walter (born in 1880) and his Aunt Mant (Samantha) lived up on the hill a half mile or so and one the other side of the road from us. I would walk up there of go with Mama, and later on I’d go on my bicycle or horseback.
Uncle Walter was typical of Daddy’s maternal kinfolks. He was five feet five inches tall, weighed a hundred and five pounds and wore khakis, lace up high-top shoes and one of those layered-looking straw hats. He carried a yellow-handled Case knife that was sharp enough to shave with, but he used it mostly to cut Tinsley Chewing Tobacco. Aunt Mant cooked a lot and probably could not be beaten when it came to fried pies, custard pies, and chicken and dumplings. She set the table with plates and napkins and goblets of tea. In the middle of the table was a sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers and an empty peach can holding forks, spoons and knives so you could get whatever you needed.
Aunt Mant and Uncle Walter had lived their lives farming, but by that time they were down to a big garden and orchard, a milk cow and some chickens. Their son lived in another house on the place and farmed it, with Uncle Walter helping him some. I was nine years old, they were seventy, and I though that was so old. And in reality, a farming couple in that time really was older than they would be now. They went to town every second Saturday where they spent a lot of time in the grocery store and Woolworth, then stopped by the feed store. Every couple of months they’d fill up their ‘40 model Ford with gas. With just a twenty-four mile round trip every two weeks, a full tank of nine-cent gas would last them awhile.
Aunt Mant and Uncle Walter had a simple, uncluttered home. It was pretty much standard at that time to have a Seth Thomas pendulum mantel clock, and I can remember hearing the one they had ticking, winding up to strike and then striking on the hour and later the quarter, half, and quarter hour again. It was quiet in their house without a radio, children or telephone. There was a butane heater with a can of water on top to keep humidity in the air. And there was always the sound of rocking chairs creaking. At home in the winter I remember Aunt Mant reading the Bible, Uncle Walter reading the Progressive Farmer, both reading the Readers Digest and both rocking and hearing every second tick by, every quarter hour, half hour and every hour strike the time. They had time to discuss whatever was worthy of discussion. I don’t recall them ever rushing around making a bunch of mistakes, some of which couldn’t be corrected.
They absolutely wouldn’t be able to believe things now. The speed, the hurrying, the desperation to keep up, keep it done, push, push, always pushing. What if they could have fast-forwarded until now? They could witness us sending e-mail while taking on the phone scheduling heart surgery, pausing to answer a cell phone to hear one of our children hysterically saying, “My car is broken down!” and not being able to understand where. Then looking at a note on the desk that says, “This has to be mailed today to avoid a penalty”, and a clock that says 5:25 p.m. Then remembering that the appointment nurse is still on hold.
I really and truly do not think we have evolved to the point of handling all of this at once. Maybe we need a mantel clock so we can hear every second tick, every quarter hour strike, and every hour count off strikes.
P.S. More things that nearly make sense: I told Frances we might not know how much it rained at the farm because the gauge would only hold six inches and then start running over. “Maybe I should’ve put up two gauges,” I said.
(c) Stan Johnson 2007
Stan Johnson lives and works in Nolan County. Comments about this column can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .