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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

In 1920, my parents received a mantel clock as a wedding gift from my mother’s sister and my father’s brother who had been married, just the previous year. This timekeeper became a precious memento of our close family ties. As the years passed, 10 children were born into this union and the old centurion kept watch over it all.

Our clock stood proud on its original shelf for more than 65 years. All dark and polished with glistening cathedral columns, it was wound by the man of the house on Sunday nights. That was good enough to keep it running a week. It bong-bonged heartily on the hour and let out a quick ping on the half-hour keeping the time that measured their lives.

It ticked through their first year of marriage and saw a baby daughter born. Our Scottish father took great delight in this child.

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Nine years and three sons later, it ticked out the grief filled moments when they were told their daughter might die. She had contracted polio and lay paralyzed from the waist down. Turning away from conventional thinking, our parents took the advice of an elderly European woman and hired a nurse to carry out her treatment.

The clock ticked along steadily. Weeks slid into months when someone shouted, “I saw her toes wiggle!” Their precious daughter recovered. The mantle clock pinged happily on the half-hours and struck life every hour as the family watched her make up for lost time.

Determined she would live to the fullest, this daughter taught herself to play her father’s violin. Her brothers kept time on an old misshapen harp, but the clamour for song and dance grew more intense. Our father, seeing his family could be musical took a load of hogs into the city and came home with an accordion, a guitar and a mandolin, a banjo, flutes and harmonicas. From then on, the roof fairly rocked as his family practised for dances and socials. The clock ticked rhythmically in the background, keeping time.

There were other concerns. A baby daughter born with the old Irish plague spina bifida arrived and the clock ticked its way through her brief hours in this world. A heavy sadness settled over the household.

Scarlet fever swept through the old farmhouse. The old clock tick-tocked along to the rhythm of the rocking chair. As fevers climbed and fell, our mother rocked many nights holding a baby in her arms, “never knowing if it would live till morning.”

Three more vibrant sons arrived and our father did his best to shoulder the load as yet another lively daughter was born. An auburn-haired beauty who matched him with her determined will. Our parents would divvy-up the little ones at night and come out bleary eyed sometimes.

One night was especially trying and the next morning our father complained. It seems that one son ground his teeth, another had kicked and squirmed about, while a third son wet the bed. “That darned clock with it’s blessed bong-bong every hour,” kept him awake, too.

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Our mother smiled with wifely wisdom. Tilting her head to one side, she informed him that, in fact, he had “forgotten to wind it last Sunday.” In truth, it had been silent all week long. I suppose, the old mantel clock had ticked for so many years, wound or not, it resounded in his tired brain.

Winter storms raged and tempers roared. About then one defiant son slipped off to war. The clock ticked away the anxious days and years till he sailed home safely. Our family, able to breathe easy again, welcomed his pretty war bride the following year.

Somewhere amid all this busyness our father began to slow his pace. Yet, his wife wanted her house renovated so a bright, new kitchen was added-on. Electrical appliances appeared and while the mantle-clock kept its place on our old dining room wall, a shiny new electric clock appeared in the kitchen. Now a quick glance sideways kept us all on-time.

One spring morning after suffering a series of mini-strokes, our father quietly passed away. When the old mantle-clock ran down, it stopped ticking and our mother noting this, let it be.

The years rolled on and our mother began to talk of moving to a home with assisted living. Just before she left, I picked up the old clock and gave it a spot in our living room but it didn’t run very well. After a trip to the repair shop, it ran like a charm.

About then we transferred from our home on the Prairies to Kingston. It was here in the east that I discovered a replica of our mantel clock and learned it had originally been made in Montreal.

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One day while entertaining two of my eldest brothers and chatting with them in our living room the clock pinged on the half-hour. In surprise, a bottom lip came unglued. They both blinked knowingly and big smiles appeared as they caught sight of our old timekeeper. If sound can bring back a sentimental moment, this was it.

Today, after 100 years, the old wedding gift sits quietly on our living room shrank. Resting inside is the key to wind it up. Careful instructions are taped on the back.

Computers don’t tick softly, there’s no ping on the hour, but then again nor do they wake a light sleeper.

Ada Grier Tinkess lives in Coquitlam, B.C.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

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