The Hands Of Time
November 3rd, 2008

Back when I was a little kid in elementary school, I remember singing a song about a grandfather and his clock, a timepiece that “stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.”

I have a similar timepiece, one that for the past forty years has been “my life seconds numbering” and which also stopped short a year ago, about the same time as I was being wheeled into the University Hospital’s intensive care unit. Happily, I did not die that day, and by the time I came home from the hospital the clock’s hands were moving again, albeit erratically. As a result, I could never be sure now what time of day it was, let alone gauge how well my medications were working.

Two weeks ago the hands stopped moving for good, even though I have fully recovered and feel just fine. So I suppose the time has come to replace it, but how does one say goodbye to a faithful companion of forty years?

It’s not a pricey clock; in fact, and I didn’t pay a penny for it. In the summer of 1967 it was an outdoor wall clock at the swimming pool where I worked as a lifeguard. Day after day I would laze atop the lifeguard stand, watching the second hand go round and round, waiting for my shift to end. Then one day it fell off the wall onto the concrete deck. It still worked, but the lens was broken and plastic bezel cracked in two places, so the boss decided to throw it out. From the trash bin it went directly to my one-room shack on the bank of Snake Creek, where it became a valued part of the exotic interior décor.


When it came time to leave Heber Valley, the clock went with me, from apartment to apartment to apartment. By the mid-Seventies it had become a fixture in my photographic darkroom—easily visible in low light and useful for clocking development times. Then one day I happened upon a similar clock at a yard sale, one with a motor that had given out, but with an unbroken lens and bezel. Voila! My swimming pool clock was now good as new!


That is, until just recently, when the movement finally gave up the ghost. I’ve searched the Internet for replacement parts, only to learn that 120-volt electric wall clocks are evidently a thing of the past. Nowadays, battery-driven quartz movements are the thing, so instead of a gentle hum, what you get is annoying “thunk, thunk.”

I suppose I will eventually get used to my new wall clock, but I’m sure it will never become a cherished possession. In order for a possession to become cherished, it has to have a history—preferably a shared history. That’s why I loved my old General Electric swimming pool clock. It was an artifact from the fabled Summer of Love, when I was young, tanned and muscular, the handsome lifeguard perched upon his pedestal, gazing vigilantly in the direction of the wall clock, ignoring the piteous cries of drowning victims, waiting patiently for his shift to end.

-Richard Menzies