articulate - adjective
1. having parts connected by joints, as in "articulated"
2. made up of distinct words joined together in such a way as to convey meaning
3. able to express oneself clearly and distinctly
4. well formulated, clearly presented

Friday, October 16, 2009

Behind the Face

Is anyone besides me fascinated with clocks?

Not the digital kind with their glaring lights and block numbers, loudly proc
laiming the waning of day with no time to spare for aesthetics.

No, what I'm in love wi
th are the beautiful old-fashioned timepieces that have faces and hands. The kind that have mysterious things going on behind the faces... gears moving and meshing and making them tick. They are precise pieces of machinery progressing at a steady rate no matter what else occurs. Thunderstorms may rage outside, but still the clock ticks. Earthquakes may shake us up, but the beautiful timepiece (hopefully) survives, marking our movement through our days. Life twists and turns and shows its bumps in the road, but still the clock moves faithfully ahead, unfazed, always doing its duty in a beautiful and efficient manner.

There are two types of clocks I have always longed for. One is the cuckoo clock made in the Black Forest of Germany, an area some of my ancestors hail from. Sometime maybe I'll tell you the story of the German baroness - my great, great grandmother - who ran off with the butcher - my great, great grandfather... but that's a story for another day. The cuckoo clock, with its intricate mechanisms and array of amusing movements, is the point here. I find them fascinating!

The other type of clock I dearly love is the grandfather clock. Originally called a long-case clock, it gained its current appellation from the childhood song that became popular in the nineteenth century, which I also learned as a child and eventually passed on to my children.

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a penny's weight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
and was always his treasure and pride,
But it stopped
Never to go again,
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick-tock, tick-tock)
His life's seconds numbering
(tick-tock, tick-tock)
But it stopped
Never to go again
When the old man died.

I first saw a grandfather clock in an old farmhouse in Virginia that belonged to long-time friends of my parents. I remember during my elementary school years making my first visit to the house of these friends, timidly approaching the entrance of this strange house and desperately hoping I wouldn't make any social faux-pas. The old farmer and his wife were gracious and welcoming, beaming their smiles and sparkling their glances toward me as they tried to make me feel comfortable in their home. I looked around in awe; I had spent the majority of my young life in the city, and a cool, spacious farmhouse was totally alien territory. The adults preceded me into the kitchen to visit around the worn table, but I took my time exploring the cavernous shadows of the living room with its vast, cushiony furniture. I ran my hand over soft chair backs, inspected - without touching, as a good girl should! - the ceramic figurines on the roll-top desk, examined the wall photographs which were arranged to display a family of offspring much older than I, who had all graduated from high school and begun to make their way in the world.

And then I saw it, and - just like in the song above - I stopped.


Never before in my life had I seen such a beautiful clock. I peered at it, loving the dark grain of the wood, examining the details of the face and the hands, wondering at the sun and moon depicted in a semi-circle above them. And what was that shiny brass pendulum thing doing at the bottom? Why were there chains and metal tubes hanging inside the cabinet? I was transfixed. Suddenly the chimes sounded, causing me to jump back in astonishment, then peer forward in curious joy. How did this item of beauty produce such enchanting sounds? What made it work?

Since that day I have wanted a beautiful grandfather clock of my own. Not a cheap, processed one made from a kit. A real one. Carved. Beautiful. Someday maybe I'll have one. Maybe not. I don't suppose it really matters. What matters is the memory, the treasure of the image I have in mind of a wonderful piece of working machinery, an instrument both beautiful and functional.

The clock pictured here is one that was owned by my dad, a lover of trains. He, too, was fascinated by gears and machinery, as well as by the lonesome call of a steam whistle and by the endless chugging of wheels passing by. Somehow this clock accidentally ended up in our possession three years ago after we moved my mom, a recent widow with still-gaping and raw wounds in her heart, into her new house. After settling her in as best we could, we packed up our belongings, hugged a lot and cried a little, and returned to our home 10 hours north of her. But somehow, in the confusion of packing the vehicle at night, we ended up with Dad's clock. I was horrified, upon my arrival at home, to discover that we had unintentionally stolen what might be treasured by her. It's not an expensive clock; it's just a piece of our past, something that belongs in our family history. An immediate phone call, a quick explanation and rushed apology later, and everything was settled. We could keep Dad's clock with Mom's blessing. Dad's train clock now sits on top of a bookcase in our living room, humming a steady accompaniment to our life's ups and downs. A treasure. Not because of its monetary value. Because of something far more important. Intrinsic value.

Another clock I treasure came from my grandmother as a gift for a birthday when I was a teenager. It's packed away now, or I'd take a photo of it to share with you. It's about five inches tall, a round face sitting on a ceramic ledge, framed by a ceramic girl on one side and a boy on the other side, stretching on tiptoe to reach each other and share a kiss across the top of the clock. Even the thought of it makes me smile. Another inexpensive treasure of intrinsic value.

Intrinsic. Now there's an interesting word. I wonder what it means. Time for a blogging rabbit trail....

An online dictionary proclaims intrinsic to mean "basic and essential; belonging to something as one of the basic and essential features that make it what it is."

How intriguing. Thought-provoking.

When I started writing today, I had no idea where this blog posting was headed. There are dozens of directions this could take. Somehow I started out thinking about clocks and ended up thinking about intrinsic value. But the thought that sticks in my mind is how people are often similar to clocks. Some are apparently as mindless as a digital clock seems to me, proudly - even blatantly - displaying all they know. Perhaps efficient, serving their place in the world, valued by those who appreciate that type. But others are the type I treasure, the kind with working motors behind their faces, with intricate gears moving and meshing in the background... the kind who ponder life and its purpose... and this is what produces and beautifies the proclamations they make. These are the people who bless the lives of others around them. These are the people who - in spite of their ups and downs, their good days and bad - bless my life.

Thank you, my friends, for being a beautiful treasure to me of incredible intrinsic value, basic and essential to my life. I appreciate you!