Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time Was:

   On a recent return to the Homeland, I saw this old clock on the wall at my Aunt Barb's house. A CocaCola promotional item from the office of my maternal Grandmother. It has a lot of memories for the both of us, and we talked about it quite extensively during my visit. I was thinking about that conversation after I returned home and it brought to mind this story, and reminded me of the effect it had on my life.
My grandmother owned and ran a small CocaCola bottling plant in my hometown. I used to love to go there. As I was growing up  myself and my only two sisters at the time ( I got two more later) lived about 4 blocks away and during the summer we would visit quite often. And, as long as we didn't get in the way of the workers, (I'm sure we never did) we pretty much had the run of the place. In her office there was an old (but not antique) commemorative pendulum clock hanging from the wall facing her desk. We were all forbidden to touch the clock. Mostly because we all loved it, and we were a bit rambunctious. For some reason the fact that the front face of it was actually a glass door that opened, and a pendulum that actually moved fascinated us. In a world of electronic clocks this one had style.  We begged and begged but were never allowed to do more than stare at it from over the back of the chair that faced grandma's desk. Until that fateful day when we were finally old enough (or had driven her crazy enough) that she would finally allow one of us, and only once every visit, to wind the clock one turn and gently push the brass weight at the bottom of the shaft. My mother was horrified. Probably because she knew she would be held responsible for any damage done. And, frankly, we were capable of quite a bit of damage. I heard Grandma tell her that the clock was broken anyway, and there wasn't much more we could do to it. And truly, it would only run for about 3 or 5 minutes before it stopped completely again. But since our attention span was measured in microseconds this was an eternity of time to us and we were well satisfied. Mom still fussed a bit every time, certain that her mother had no real idea of the damage we were capable of, and that the only suitable playground for us lay in the more industrial areas of the warehouse portions of the plant. Where we had, it is true, once disabled the industrial elevator 3 different times in the same day. But, despite the odds against it, the clock took no further damage.
   I still (these many years later) remember how proud I was to be able to finally open the door, take out the heavy key and wind that clock, and how incredibly jealous I was when it wasn't my turn and I had to stand to the side and let one of my sisters do it. I  remember the feel of the bob as I, ever so gently, pushed it to get the motion started and I can also still hear the stately, hushed tick-tock that would vibrate out of it for the few minutes it would run until it stopped.
   I don't remember the reason (I was only about 8 or 10 at the time) but one day I was at the Coke Plant without my sisters or my mother. So, actually, I was on my own, as my grandmother had a great many admirable traits, but maternal instinct wasn't one of them (and she had 10 kids). I'd like to think that as a very independent woman herself, she liked to encourage that trait in others. But I'm almost forced to admit that, to her, children just weren't that interesting as people, conversation-wise anyway. So I was basically on my
The Coke Plant. Many MANY moons later
own and, having once again explored the dim, dark secrets of the Bottling Plant, I was quietly (for the most part) sitting across from her in her office just looking around the place. My mother's family had been bottling soda in that building for over 100 years and quite a bit of that history was just gathering dust around that office. I really was trying to be good but then, as now, when there's a question in my head it's like an itch. If I don't ask it, it just keeps growing more and more itchy until I let it out. So, even though I was potentially submitting myself for one of my grandmother's famous sarcastic tongue-lashings, I just had to ask the question, it was getting too 'itchy' to be ignored.
'Grandma.' I said cautiously.
'Yes?' she answered, sounding mildly irritated at being interrupted.
I took a quick breath, 'I thought I heard you tell Mom the clock didn't work?'
She looked up from whatever she was doing and raised her eyebrow. 'It doesn't. Hasn't worked for more than a few minutes at a time in years.You kids just love winding it, so I let you do it.' She looked at me with a bit of curiosity for a moment, and then back down to her paperwork. Even then, I knew that time to a child is more than a little fluid, and entirely subjective, but I knew it had been longer than a few minutes since I had wound the clock. I ran it through my head: I started out in the office, and wound the clock, then I had wandered all over the Plant, grubbed around in the storerooms upstairs, and generally been nosy as hell in the back office/storage room and then had been (mostly) quiet in the office for a while. But I still had no idea whether it had been more than 15 minutes. I twitched and fidgeted for a few seconds paranoid that the noise would stop before I could ask the question.
'Grandma?' I asked timidly.
'Yes?' Her voice had a bit of an edge to it now.
'If it doesn't work, why is it still ticking?' Thinking about it now, it would have been at least an hour, or at least 20 times longer than it normally ran.
She looked up. Furled her brow and cocked an ear at the clock. She could see the pendulum gently moving and we could just hear it ticking over the ambient sounds of the building. 'Huh,' She said, then looked at me and gave me a wry smile.'Guess that'll teach me.' She then (much more quickly and accurately than I) estimated the amount of time, and then said, 'What did you do to make it work?' I shrugged. 'Well, if it's going to work, it might as well show the right time!'  She said, managing to sound enthusiastic and matter-of-fact at the same time.
She then instructed me in what to do, and supervised my gentle adjustment of the hands while I was standing backwards on an armchair. Amazingly, after I'd sat back down we had a bit of a conversation, mostly centered on the clock. I tried to explain, in my limited fashion, why I liked it so much, and she may even have told me that it was a promotional item, and not quite as antique as it appeared. About the time that our conversation was starting to peter out (perhaps 15 or so minutes)  the pendulum stopped moving. We both stared at it for a few seconds, but not even a hasty push of the bob or a turn of the winding key would get it moving again. I'm not even sure if it ever worked after that until almost 40 years later when my Aunt Barb had it repaired.
   I was disappointed. But not entirely, or even mostly, because 'The Special Coke Clock' quit working. Ours is a large family, and even as the oldest grandchild, it's pretty easy to get lost in the mix. So the time I had spent talking one-on-one with my grandmother was, in my fanciful mind, kind of a small magical moment, seemingly engendered by the movement of the pendulum of that special timepiece. Its silence seemed to signal the end of that special time. My grandmother misinterpreting my despondency, said, 'It's okay. It kept time for that little while, we should just be glad that it worked for that long.' I'm certain she didn't mean to say anything profound. It was just one of those off hand comments that aren't meant to be
important, but for some reason strike a cord in someone. For some reason, probably because it had nothing to do with the reason I was sad, I actually thought about it and completely unintentionally it had a profound effect on my life. Especially 30 or so years later after I'd all but forgotten the phrase, but still tried to maintain the attitude.
    For most of my life, with varying degrees of success, I've tried to be happy that things worked or went well, and not get too wrapped up with disappointment when they didn't, just deal with it and move on. That became especially helpful when Dude came along. I definitely needed that attitude to get through raising him up. (or him raising me up. Jury's still out on that one) We are excited when things work out or work well. And when they don't, we don't focus on the fact that good things aren't happening, we just deal with the problem and move on. We try to be happy that the clock keeps time for the time it keeps it. We're very Cheeseburger-Zen about life around here.

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