The house was quiet. There were sound that children make when they are sleeping, there is the gurgle and bumping of the water travelling through the heater pipes. I’m in the upstairs master bedroom. Lois will join me soon for a long winter’s nap and set the fan to whirring. But right now things are quiet. An occasional car purrs through the neighborhood, only a few an hour this late in the evening.
We once lived in an old farmhouse at the end of a long lane in a valley surrounded by fields and woods and trees, birds and rabbits, deer, possums, groundhogs, skunk and raccoons. We woke up every morning to the sound of the mourning dove in the high pines in the front yard and a hundred bird songs. Our bedroom was on the first level. My study was on the second level in a garret. The children’s rooms were also on the second level.
A screen porch wrapped around our bedroom and on a mid-summer night when it was cool enough, you could turn of the fan and open both doors to the screen porch and listen to the night sounds. I once read an essay about crickets, that gave a formula for calculating the temperature by listening to how far apart the chirps were, made by rubbing there back legs. Usually I just crawl out of bed and go over to the window and read the thermometer.
I don’t remember the equation, but I do know no one hermetically sealed into central air conditioning could have slept for beautifully.
There is one noise here that I don’t remember hearing anywhere else. It as a steady, rhythmic ticking of a wall clock hanging over my dresser.
We’ve had it for nearly twenty years. It was a gift to Lois on our second Christmas together. It was a great improvement on the first gift I gave her, the pink wool suit.
It has to be wound regularly. That is a problem for me. I like low maintenance things.
I had an ivy plant at college. I thing I bought it at a garage sale the summer after my Senior year in high school. Thought it would look good in my dorm room. Touch of home. I never had a plant before, but it seemed like a good idea. Soft classical music, two serious scholars, and a thriving dorm-plant.
My roommate was one of those types who always changes his oil every 2,000 miles. Gets regular reviews of his insurance coverage, brushes between each meal and fastidiously types his class notes between lectures.
After walking past my struggling plant for a fortnight, he took pity on it and began to give it water. It drank like a thirsty man. Within a few days the plant took new life. A week later Paul (who always wears rubbers on rainy days) adopted the plant and put it in the window. (the window was on his side of the room). Before the end of the term it had gone from peeking over the edge of the pot to climbing confidently up the window and bushy as the hair of a seventies rock idol.
Regular maintenance is a cool thing. I gotta’ work on that.
My dad once asked me if my car battery was a no-maintenance battery. “Aren’t all car batteries no-maintenance,” I answered.
Anyway, about the clock. The clock stopped working dependently when it was a few years old. We kept it for sentimental value and, like they say, it still told the right time twice a day, but other than looking nice to people who drove by on the road outside, it had little value. So for years we faithfully dragged it wherever we moved and hung it dutifully on the wall.
On an excursion through Holmes County in Ohio one mellow fall afternoon, we came on a quaint clock shop in a tiny village called Farmerstown. The proprietor was an orderly, businesslike Amishman. He didn’t make house calls so we arranged an appointment for our ailing timepiece.
On a return trip exploratory surgery revealed the damage. rust on the mainspring. Analogous to human heart disease, I suppose. And the prognosis: Full recovery after surgery and a new mainspring. For the first time in years we parted briefly with the clock and drove quietly away. The man worked his work and when we traced our way back the country lanes again we found our treasure waiting for us in good health. With regular winding and good maintenance, it’s now more than a sentimental thing of beauty, it is a working clock and it provides a little company on a cold winter night when you are waiting for your wife to help you warm the bed.
In that sweet, warm relaxing few minutes before you sink into untroubled winter sleep, it occurs to me that some of the most valuable things is life will never yield their best to us, and we will never know their best, without regular maintenance.
Since we live in a fallen world, the mainsprings of our marriage need a little review from time to time. Without regular check-ups and quiet talks. Without patient listening and regular consultations of the owner’s manual, things are almost certain to wind down and disappoint.