Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Clock

This is a story I had to write for a class. I thought I would put it up on here and get some feedback. Thanks for the idea, Trav.

When I was small, staying at my Grandma’s house was an adventure. Long before Grandma’s mind was taken by Alzheimer’s and dementia, she was crazy in lots of other ways. A survivor of the Great Depression in a Dust bowl state like Oklahoma, and having lived through the rationing of World War II, Grandma hoarded everything. It was neat. Her cupboards were full mismatched Tupperware, butter bowls and Cool Whip containers with the labels scrubbed cleanly off. Under the flaps of corduroy curtains that covered each shelf in her pantry was a world of food the likes of which most have never seen. Mysterious cans with their labels ripped off, spicy scented packets of homemade soup mix, rows upon rows of homemade jars of jam and jelly and currant with drips of paraffin wax seeping out of the lids were placed too high for me to reach without the aid of a step ladder. But down below, she had stocked the shelves with treats for me to find. I would raise the dusty curtain and my nose would itch with anticipation. There, I could find bags of marshmallows, hard from exposure, jars of Tang, and cut-rate peanut butter with a spoon lying neatly next to it, an invitation to take a bite. There were nuts and salty snacks, cupcakes and breads she had made all waiting for me. Finally, with my belly full and the smell of dinner already hanging in the moist kitchen air, I would wander back to the playroom, her studio.
The walls were covered with half-finished oil paintings. Farmhouses and barns, waterfalls and forests, snow-capped mountains with clumps of pine trees, each with some deliberate portion left unpainted. I knew that later, under her skilled tuition, she would help me to fill in the blanks on some of these dusty canvasses, the smell of turpentine and paint and her big knobby fingers guiding my hands to create art. All around the room, on
every conceivable surface sat the remnants of her hobby, and all around those sat my toys. Broken dolls she had picked up at rummage sales, dainty dresses and roughly hewn sweaters she had sewed and crocheted by hand, wigs she had bought from the beauty college where she had her hair set and curled all sat out in tubs, boxes and crates of various origins. The shelf in the corner was filled with shoeboxes. Each box contained treasures my Grandma collected just for me. Boxes filled with thimbles, and spools, old lotion bottles and empty lipstick tubes. Boxes of paper and magazine cutouts, the leftover deposit slips from the back of her checkbook. The boxes contained shaving cream cans and aftershave bottles that reminded me of my Grandpa’s smell, though he died before I could even remember him. She put back the little orange spreading sticks that came in HandiSnacks cheese and crackers. She saved rocks and pinecones, leaves and pits. Together, we would build cities of bottles and spools that stretched down the long hallway to her bedroom. She was such fun.
She had quite a garden. Well, it was more of a small farm. She had fruit trees and corn and green beans and potatoes and carrots and berries and squash and peppers and every other vegetable under the sun. Her yard was her own little Eden on Pierce Street in the middle of Enid, Oklahoma. She would gather the food in baskets and make breads and jams and other foods and hoard them away in her basement, apparently awaiting nuclear holocaust or drought. Most afternoons, even in the dead of summer, her small hunched frame could be seen toiling away under the shade of the trees, lovingly laboring to see each plant weeded, composted, groomed and finally picked. The food filled her house. Cubbies and cabinets far and near contained some preserved food. She had three deep freezes to keep up with it all. They were as much an adventure as the rest of her house. Carefully moving logs of freezer burned Ziplocs in order to find last year’s blackberries was always an exploration into the unknown. If the Abominable Snowman had once leapt out at me, I would not have feigned surprise.
Her house was never fancy. Most everything she owned was second-hand, salvaged, painted and put back together. She even had used carpet. The knick-knacks were picked up at garage sales or the Dollar General. Her rugs were homemade rag rugs she had tied herself. However, her pride and joy was the clock. It was an original New Haven Clock Company mantle clock, an ornate, heavy mahogany beauty. The original label that still sits slightly adhered to the little door in the back dates it in the 1930’s. She would have been my age when she got it. Maybe it was a wedding present. Regretfully, I never thought to ask. The clock chimed gloriously at every hour and half hour. It resonated throughout her house, and I could know how soon supper was while inside my spool city because of that clock. When we stayed the night at her house and I woke up afraid, not knowing where I was, the clock would chime and I would remember and roll over to snuggle up with Grandma, breathing in her scent of Avon lotion and old lady.
When she died last February, after a desperate battle for her very mind and soul, my family went to clean out the house. What was once a magical land of make-believe was now just boxes and boxes of trash. Well-saved and well-intended fruits and veggies were now laid to waste, for who really wants to eat peaches canned in 1972? Each of us wandered through the house touching and caressing memories of Grandma, opening cabinets and smelling towels, pulling long strings of shiny beads from jewelry boxes and wearing them for no good reason, picking out the things we wanted to take home. My brother took a music box that played Green Sleeves. My sister took the dinette set that had sat so many Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter dinners that you could almost see the reflections of our growing faces in its varnished top. My mother struggled and finally took everything and to this day just has it in storage. I, on the other hand, walked purposefully and dutifully to the clock. I took its little key and wound it tight. It chimed the hour, and I knew that my Grandma was there, teaching me to paint and setting aside new spools and walking with me collecting pinecones and persimmons. I knew that, although in the end, she could not look at my face with the slightest flicker of recognition, in that clock was time. Lost time, wasted time, good time and bad time and in between time all showed at some point on the honest face of that clock. It is my memento, my keepsake of a crazy woman who in the end gave me the best gift of all: time.

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