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October 7, 2017

My grandmother’s clock
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:10 AM * 76 comments

I have a chiming clock in the house. It was originally my maternal grandmother’s, and my mother very kindly gave it to me a number of years back. Hearing it tick in the background, I often think about the song “My Grandfather’s Clock”. We used to sing it* in elementary school. That song is a sweet remembrance of someone’s stout, elderly grandfather.


But it’s such a patriarchal clock in the song, isn’t it? A huge investment on the day a baby is born. It won’t fit anywhere convenient, so you have to make an extra space for it. And then everything comes to a stop when Mr Center of Attention leaves the scene. I understand that in the sequel it ends up in a junk shop, broken down for parts and chopped up for kindling.

My grandmother, whom I never met but am told I strongly resemble, was born into a poor immigrant family. She was a smart woman but had very little access to higher education. She was also a gifted crafter; I have one small piece of her weaving. She was not always happy in the space she was allowed to occupy in society, and she didn’t raise a very happy family. Her death in her fifties was all the harder as a result, for her and for everyone who had to carry on.

But she left this clock, which she’d liked and bought as an adult. A little wooden Seth Thomas mantel clock, now with a chipped face after a shipping mishap. It has a soothing tick and a clear chime. It went through a phase of refusing to go for a few years, but has mysteriously resumed working again. Its ticking is the heartbeat of the house, a reminder of someone I wish I’d known.

And this is a great gift because she also left us ourselves: the female line, unnamed the way female lines are in our culture. A daughter, two granddaughters, one great-granddaughter†, all of whom have inherited something of her smile and a lot of her brains. I look at my hands as I bind books and Fiona’s as she draws, and wonder what hers looked like on the loom. I look at the good in my life and wish more of it had been in hers too.

My grandmother’s clock is at home on its shelf
As it was on so many before.
Not a gift at her birth, for she bought it herself
In LA at a secondhand store.

It has sounded its chimes
Through the good and happy times;
Been a comfort on days that I’ve mourned.
For it ticks on, though she herself was gone
Before I was born.

Her heart beating in memory.
(tick, tock, tick, tock)
Her voice singing the hours to me.
(tick, tock, tick, tock)
For it ticks on, though she herself was gone
Before I was born.

(I don’t think today is any kind of anniversary. But since her genes and her clock are ever-present in my life, any day will do to post this.)

* the first verse, anyway. I’ve just looked it up and it does go on a lot longer.
† I have other cousins and nieces, but this is the female line I’m talking about.

Comments on My grandmother's clock:
#1 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 09:33 AM:

What a lovely reworking of that poem, Abby.

#2 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 09:34 AM:

Abi. Abi.

#3 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 10:36 AM:

I only vaguely remember the original song. (The first verse does sound somewhat familiar, now that I've looked it up). This is a lovely reworking. And the clock sounds very nice, too.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 10:47 AM:


I wonder how "grandfather clocks" got their name?

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 10:54 AM:

My grandparents - my father's parents - had a clock on the mantel at their house that chimed. (I don't know what happened to it when my grandmother sold that house.)

My father had a seven-day clock in Texas, which his next younger brother had gotten somewhere (and he got it after my father died). I don't think it chimed, but it could have at one time; it was actually a time clock.

#6 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 11:07 AM:

Stefan Jones (4): According to Wikipedia (where I found the lyrics to the song), the name 'grandfather clock' came from the song.

#7 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 11:19 AM:

In my family the eldest daughter is given the same first name as her grandmother. So the female line of descent has alternating first names A-B-A-B, for at least nine generations.

#8 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 12:06 PM:

Thanks for the poem, Abi.

We sang My Grandfather's Clock at our (UK) primary school in the seventies. Singalongs seemed to be the main element of 'music' lessons insofar as we had them, though some of us learned the dread descant recorder too (eventually I moved down the staff to the treble recorder and maybe the tenor one too, I forget). Eclectic singing repertoire: I remember Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins and—daringly modern—Morningtown Ride, plus the usual Catholic primary school stuff of the just-after-Vatican II era (older hymns like Bring Flowers of the Rarest, but ones targeted at guitar were winning out: Colours Of Day was unavoidable.) Our accompanist teacher must have had her childhood piano lessons in the inter-war years and there was probably a copy of My Grandfather's Clock inside every piano stool in the country then. I only learned very recently that Marching Through Georgia had the same composer.

The way the clock stopped When The Old Man Died really annoyed me as a child; a death can't make a clock stop; there must be a mechanical reason for this. Odd that it should have wound me up like that, as I was quite superstitious.

#9 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 12:08 PM:

Both my grandfathers were dead when I was born Maternal grandma lived with us and collected Hummels and crosheted potholders. We have a German grandfather clock, which chimes, but we've never gotten it to hang (there are weights involved) straight on the wall so that it works for any length of time and people area lways bumping into it. I've been thinking about my grandmothers lately, being now that age and resorting to vanishing scent Ben-Gay.

#10 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 12:36 PM:

D. Potter@9: I was born to oldish parents; only ever had two living grandparents, and both declined and died when I was young. Having older parents gave me an odd set of out-of-date cultural referents that set me apart a bit when I was growing up; I've only just realised that my lack of the 'usual' grandparents (ideally, numerous and hale enough to provide respite parenting) set me apart a bit too, and it makes me a bit sad. The surviving ones were too old, and I too young, for me to get to know them properly.

#11 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 01:46 PM:

The way the old man in the song regards the clock is utterly egocentric, as if it were a body slave he was gifted at birth: it never complains, does its work, only wants winding once a week... and like the good slave of myth, when its owner goes, it goes too. If Grandfather had been an ancient Egyptian he would have had the damned clock sitting ready to go into his tomb with him at the end.

I like your version much better.

#12 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 02:29 PM:

It's timely for me to read this. Yesterday I hit a grief-wall while trying to decide which of my father's tools to keep and which to discard.

It's not that he's recently deceased; he's been gone 20 years. It's not that there's anything of great intrinsic value in his toolbox; it's rusty junk and I haven't got space to keep it anymore. But I'm having a terrible lot of trouble letting go of the idea that a toolbox is more than just stuff, it's an expression of your self, a manifestation of your abilities and your aspirations. Here was a guy who, among other things, fixed faucets and stitched leather and apparently needed four ice picks for some reason. To break up the collection feels like a miniature echo of his death.

They weren't even his real tools. His real tools were frying pans and cookie sheets and the telephone he used for listening to the problems of people he met in AA meetings. But the metaphor's still getting to me.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 03:35 PM:

I have a box of tools from my father (and possibly earlier) that's a mil-spec crate about 9 inches deep by about 18 by 30 inches. I know my hacksaw frame is in there, and also the hand drill that I asked for.
(It's been 23 years and some months since he died; the box came when my mother moved back from Texas.)

One of my cousins took most of the shop equipment; it was a laugh, though, pulling open one of the drawers (old type font drawers from when the local newspaper moved) and finding one full of files.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 03:41 PM:

I was going through the Family silver a couple of years ago (PNH will tell you that I have Family, not just family) and found a bowl with the inscription "Martha to Lizzy, 1 August 1860". With a little digging in a geneology a kind friend made, I discovered that Elizabeth Sherman had a sister, Martha; and she married Thomas Thacher on that date. So this was probably a wedding present. (The Shermans were great-granddaughters of Roger Sherman, rather prominent in Revolutionary times.)

The Thachers had a daughter Elizabeth, who married William Kent. They had a daughter Elizabeth, who married George Stanleigh Arnold. They had a daughter Elizabeth, who married my father. They had no daughters.

When I figured out the history of the bowl, I realized that it needed to go to an Elizabeth in my generation -- fortunately, my mother had a niece who was born with her name (and has since married). So I got in touch with her, and asked her if she'd like the bowl, with the geas that it should be passed on to an Elizabeth in the next generation. She was absolutely thrilled (her job in the family when she was young was polishing the silver!); now it's with her, and I'm sure she's going to keep it passing along in the same way. I really like having an artifact in the family that's following the maternal line of the name....

And I still have a great many of my father's books because I'm of the same mindset as you, PJEvans @13. It's hard to let them go!

#15 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 06:16 PM:

Steve with a book @ #8: The way the clock stopped When The Old Man Died really annoyed me as a child; a death can't make a clock stop; there must be a mechanical reason for this. Odd that it should have wound me up like that, as I was quite superstitious.

I am reminded that in Rocky and Bullwinkle's rendition, the Old Moose didn't so much Die as Mysteriously Disappear, and when someone finally thinks to check the innards of the clock to see if there was some mechanical cause for it stopping, it turns out the Old Moose has been trapped inside the pendulum cabinet all this time and is quite annoyed that nobody thought to look earlier.

#16 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 06:17 PM:

This is beautiful, and it's coming at a time when I very much need some beauty. Thank you so much for this.

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 06:21 PM:

(Footnote to mine @14 -- oops, that was Evan@12 I was referring to. So much for scanning!)

#18 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 06:29 PM:

This really is good, and I like the lyrics. Also, now I want a chiming clock. My grandpa's house had one with an electronic-sounding chime, nothing really pretty, and it wasn't his anyway (I'm assuming, given that we didn't take it when we cleaned out his things in July*.) I have a few fountain pens of his that I would like to clean up so I can write with them, even if not to him, and pass them along.

*I find myself wanting a friend's boyfriend to get a job near where Grandpa and related family lived so when I see my friend, I can also see the landscape and things that aren't actually familiar but have taken on Meaning now that I'm an adult and searching for things to Mean.

#19 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 11:18 PM:

abi @0: I particularly love the tick tock heartbeat through time. One could make a lovely sf or fantasy story from that.

Evan @12: Oh, I totally get the toolbox thing. My dad gave me enough of an acknowledgement before he died that I've been able to reclaim my good relationship with him postumously. And now I really regret not having had a chance to get to know him as an adult. (Oh, the hay he would have made of the Maker movement!)

I've got bits and bobs I associate with him scattered around, much of it I don't use anymore, and/or is in terrible condition. But I keep it all, because. (Fortunately, I do have room for it, so there's that.)

The one that particularly pinches is the crescent wrench that a "friend" destroyed because he was feeling impatient and needed a hammer that wasn't handy. (This was back in the days before I had the wherewithal that would have let me grab it away from with an emphatic "Dude, WTF?" It was one of a set of three that, along with a double-handful of other basic tools, my dad gave me on my 18th birthday.

P J Evans @13: one of the drawers ... full of files.

::lust::  :-)

#20 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2017, 11:19 PM:

Oh and: Tom Whitmore: That's a really neat story.

#21 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 02:50 AM:

Oh, man, my (paternal) grandfather and drawers of tools. Two stories. No, three.

1. He had a table saw. It was a good table saw and it was His Table Saw. When he died, my father took the table saw but...couldn't use it. Because it was his father's. Multiple table-saw worthy tasks were done with a circular saw or left undone. The final solution was tool laundering: he sold my grandfather's table saw and bought another one with the money.

2. My grandparents always drank Folger's instant coffee. Grandpa's workshop was lined with shelves of Folger's coffee cans full of neatly sorted things. My aunt took the shelves but not the cans, then had to go back and get the cans because nothing else fit so precisely on those shelves.

3. In the 1950's, everybody was electrifying their treadle sewing machines and taking them off their one-drawer tables. My grandfather did this for the department store he worked for. They were just throwing the drawers away, so he brought them home and made racks for them. They held yet more neatly sorted woodworking equipment. I have some of those drawers now, and have built a custom rack to hold them. (It's an IKEA hack.) I store neatly sorted bookbinding and sewing equipment in them.

(I also have a lot of little IKEA drawers with more neatly sorted stuff. Blood seeps where it can't go, the Dutch say (het bloed kruipt waar het niet gaan kan). Blood will tell, we'd say in English.)

#22 ::: Craft (Alchemy) ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 07:00 AM:

Thank you, Abi.

When we cleared out my father's mother's house, we found that one of the ottomans was a storage box, full of sewing supplies that hadn't been touched in years as my grandmother got less able to do fine work. My mother and I split what was usable.

The first time I opened one of her sealed 40-year-old packets of bias binding felt distinctly weird ... but the feeling settled when I reminded myself that Grandma hated waste and, had she been there, would have told me it was meant to be used.

Another story, recalled by Tom @14: my sister has a necklace with a little letter A. She got it from my aunt, who got it from my aforementioned grandmother. *She* got it from my grandfather's sister when she married him; when my grandfather turned out to be a poor excuse for a human being, she gave it to my aunt, because she didn't want to keep it, but also felt strongly that it shouldn't just be got rid of.

#23 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 09:16 AM:

re grandparents and clocks: One of the things I remember about going to visit my mother's parents as a child is the sound of the clock the ticking when it got quiet. My grandmother (who just made it to 98 last month) gave that clock to my parents some time ago when it needed repairs and it's now in my mother's dining room where I have a moment of disconnect every time I visit & notice it. But now my child gets to associate ticky clocks with her grandma's house. (I would have adopted the cuckoo clock that we had when I was a kid, only my husband is super sensitive to clock ticking & would not get along with it.)

My grandparents initially replaced the old mechanical clock with one of those creepy battery operated analog ones that recited one of the ten commandments on the hour, leading to dinner being punctuated by a scratchy voice saying, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." This has since been replaced by the kind that plays bird songs, much to the relief of guests.

re fathers and tools: My father only died about 4 years ago; he was a self-described "tool-aholic" with a penchant for estate sales, and then he spent his last few months cleaning and reorganizing the basement with the end result that all the accumulated memories my mother & I have of where to find things are no longer reliable. Somewhere among the giant pile of hammers is one that his great-grandfather made, but there's no one left who has any idea which one it is.

#24 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 09:53 AM:

Frank Hayes' version cropped up frequently at filksings in college:

#25 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 11:13 AM:

I have some stuff from my grandmother, too. A jar of whole nutmegs (!) is possibly the most valuable, but there are some good beading needles, the kind that will take a strand of embroidery floss.

I have some of my father's college textbooks, too. (IIRC, one of them was assembled in fascicles.) The other books from him were ones he bought secondhand, including a couple of cookbooks. (Kansas Home Cook Book, "4th printing, 8th thousand" - it was bound with blank onionskin pages at intervals, the cover backed with newspaper, and there are recipes cut out and glued into both front and back inside covers.)

#26 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 12:36 PM:

I have a little bit of (costume) jewelry from each of my grandmothers. Grandma's pins aren't really my style, but Grossmutti's necklace is. The string in that necklace broke at least twenty years ago, but I saved all of the beads; I restrung it last month when I started getting interested in beading and will definitely wear it when appropriate.

#27 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 01:49 PM:

My current wallet was my grandmother's (Elizabeth Kent Arnold -- it has her initials on it) silver cigarette case. It's a lovely Faraday cage for the chips in my credit cards, and it keeps me from carrying too much stuff -- it's a very limited size.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 02:12 PM:

Coincidentally, I had been thinking about time and grandparents recently. My paternal grandparents were born in the reign of Queen Victoria, and far enough from her death that they could remember her as their queen. To me, on the other hand, the Victorians seem remote, distant, and even a bit artificial.

Which is odd. I spent my teen years studying by the light of a kerosene lamp. My father had a set of magic lantern slides. My mother spun wool with a spindle that my father had carved for her. I quite literally walked from the nineteenth to the twentieth century when I went to catch the school bus.

What I got from my mother, what all three of us children got, were stories. Stories from her childhood and youth that linked us to a lifeworld older in many ways than our own. Stories tied to the old stone house by the mill where she was born (but which, years later, she wouldn't let me photograph, for reasons much too painful to go into here). It is the stories that bind me to my maternal line, and to the raft of uncles, aunts, cousins, and a grandmother, I have known over the years.

#29 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 05:07 PM:

Do people have ideas about how to find good homes for your (precious) things when you've no expectation that there'll be close interested parties?

I wrote this for a gentleman whose tools I purchased/inherited through the hapenstance of seeing his saw set (and knowing what it was) -- his children weren't at all interested, but it clearly pained him to think about seeing them split up and sold off to random uncaring people, or worse yet, sold as scrap or tossed in a landfill -- and I was delighted (and still am) to give them a new home and use:

I think of you often;
daily, as the wind sweeps the trees.

Your gift, years of knowledge,
a lifetime of care, in wood and in steel.

A trove of unknown stories worn into their work-worn handles.

Did you once think;
the same questions, and wonder

Will I grow old and rest,
passing on my tools, and wishing them proud

Wondering what stories they'll build?

#30 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 07:49 PM:

xeger: This probably doesn't directly address your question, but I've had some surprising results offering stuff for free on Craigslist. (The $ I could get just doesn't balance the effort required to get it, and usually I just want stuff Gone.)

I lucked into a big-ole hollow log when I happened to be peddaling by when one of the city trees was being taken down. Its trunk was thoroughly hollowed out, and I'd been dreaming of making a big drum for years, so I paid the guy to lop off a reasonable length of it and deliver it to my house.

Never got around to doing anything with it (not really having the tools to work it properly*), so finally decided to re-home it. Put an ad on Craigslist, fully expecting to have to invoke the local arborist's services in a week or so when nobody responded, but got an answer almost instantly.

"Yes! Yes, we want it!!" I asked what they planned to use it for: "Beehive!"

Came into possession of a wetsuit I'd intended to rework into galoshes. Again, never got around to it (sensing a theme here?). Ad to Craigslist, again not expecting much, especially since I noticed something I hadn't when I got it: it had a Seaworld logo blazoned across the back. (Wouldn't expect there'd be a lot of call for scuba gear in Colorado, and who the hell wants to wear that karma?) Again, prompt response: woman was heading up to the the No-DAPL protest; wet-suit would be useful for people dealing with cold, rainy weather.

As it happens, that's the weekend the police up there started using water cannons. So, karmic redemption after all.

* I'm generally allergic to power tools.

#31 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2017, 10:54 PM:

My grandfather had a grandfather clock with a case he'd built himself. It really did stop the day he died (though it was set going again just fine, and I believe still is going). The prosaic explanation, as far as I know, was that everyone had been too busy going back and forth to the hospital to remember to wind the clock on its appointed day.

#32 ::: alisea ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 05:44 AM:

I never met either of my grandfathers, both having died more than 30 years before I was born in the big war that took way too many young men in that generation. I do have a couple of things from my maternal grandparents I value very much, though:

My grandma was a seamstress, and my grandpa a weaver. My mom gave me my grandfathers weaving textbook and my grandmothers workbook from their respective apprenticeships. I do have a few memories about my grandmother teaching me textile skills as a child, but we did see each other way too little when I was young, since we were divided by the wall that split Germany in two parts at that time. She died just a couple of years after that wall stopped being a problem. I do have most of her haberdashery stash mixed in with mine, and love using that old stuff whenever it fits into one of my projects.

#33 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 07:23 AM:

I know that my mother and sisters have jewelry passed down from Grandma (probably both Grandmas), but I don't know too much about that.

The heritage I do know more about is art. I have on my walls my maternal Grandpa's drawing of me, and a poem¹ he wrote, typed up, and framed, both from my infancy. And two of Mom's paintings, one from my childhood, one from more recently. I also hav,e in a glass stand that won't stand properly, a board with two paintings (on each side) from the other Grandpa, who apparently dabbled in it (but didn't tell anyone!) after their son married my artistic mother. From Grandma I have two of her soup recipes, both of which I've made on occasion.

¹ For some value of poetry, as Grandpa was a better visual artist than a poet. "The Poem That David Would Write", an abecedary of little snippets from my early childhood.

#34 ::: Mom ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 09:48 AM:

I gave her the clock. She was staightforward about wanting it, and it's better to give things to kids while you're still alive, right? Rather than wait for them to divide up the loot later, when you're not there to enjoy it.

I knew Abi's grandmother well, since she was my mother. They are much alike, and would have liked each other. Strong, enduring, they are both artists. My Mom was always, fundamentally, on my side (if we were choosing up sides) and I've tried to be that for Abi.

When we talk on Skype sometimes I hear the clock chiming, and then I smile

#35 ::: Anonmouse ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 10:18 AM:

Thank you Abi. My husband grew up very rootless; his family is not what it could have been. 50 years forward, he has quite a clock collection - grandmother, grandfather, mantel, you name it. All from flea markets and estate sales and whatnot. They make him feel connected, he says, perhaps not to his family but to a larger family that just hasn't met each other at all. I will show him your poem.

(I comment so infrequently that I am not sure this is my nym here, I'm in the ballpark I assume if not the exact seat)

#36 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 11:54 AM:

A few weeks ago I came across a piece of fabric in a spiderweb print that my late MiL must have bought, so it’s currently becoming a dress. I hope to have it done in time for Hallowe’en.

#37 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 12:46 PM:

thank you Abi.. my grandmother had a mantel clock like that, a steady tempo in her house. It went to my aunt Elaine who went to New Zealand to be with two of her children. I don't know what has become of the clock.

Some thoughts on the remnant possessions of my fathers and mothers, at the link from my name here.

I have been collecting and refurbishing old fishing gear, split-cane rods and fly-fishing reels. One cane rod came from a gentleman even older than me, who had inherited it from his old fishing buddy, but could no longer go fishing himself. I remember them both when I take it out fishing.

#38 ::: Jimbeaux D ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 01:02 PM:

I have my grandfather's railroad watch, an Elgin, and the serial number implies it is from the '20. I have read an argument that it was very high tech for its time. My grandfather had a barn full of lumber, tools, and lots of shelves full of hardware. He stored a lot of stuff in his old cigar boxes. One day he took us out there, pulled out a shelf and gave us each a silver dollar. Then he drove us to a junkyard and let us spend it on anything we wanted.
The watch has a fantastic tick, I wind it up sometimes and lay it on my wooden dresser, just like my grandfather did.

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 01:42 PM:

The talk of fishing gear reminds me of another family story.

The parents of the grandmother who bought the clock invented a particular kind of fishing sinker (a "Freeline Fishing Sinker" with a copper tube up the middle to allow the line to slide through it). They patented it (US 1802260 A) and manufactured it for sale, pretty much entirely in the LA Basin.

When my paternal grandfather died (in San Jose), my parents found a couple of those sinkers in his tackle box. We have no idea how they traveled so far in the days of very regional production.

My mother (hi, Mom @34) still has a couple of them. She just sent me a picture.

#40 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 01:56 PM:

Mom @34: OMG! Hi, Mom!! ::wavewavewave::

#41 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 02:31 PM:

I have a watercolor (unframed, unmatted) of a tree on a hillside that my father's mother did when she was in college (University of Kansas, fine arts, class of 1909). And the bentwood cane that her husband had, which is pretty close to my size.
(I remember him for allowing us to watch him out in his shop in the garage. When Granny was getting ready to move and sell the house, the jars of nails and screws and whatnot were still on the shelves - he used baby-food jars. And the light that he mounted on the end of a one-by-four, hinged to the wall so he could have it where he needed it.)

#42 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 02:53 PM:

I have several carved wooden animals done by my mother's mother (my mother got the defective ones; some of the complete ones are visible online here (the lighting makes them much more dramatic than they are in real life!). My father's mother represented artists, rather than being one: so I have an A. Hugh Fisher print ("Brahms Rhapsody") which family lore says is a picture of my father (and not Groucho Marx, who it looks more like) and another Fisher of two of my grandmother's cats ("Bob Cat and Leader Cat"). Both of these are framed and up on the walls where I live.

#43 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 05:34 PM:

There's a quite lovely performance of "Grandfather's Clock" by Joan Morris and William Bolcom, with the Camerata Chorus of Washington, on "Who Shall Rule This American Nation? Songs By Henry Clay Work." It's an old album, one of a series of Americana released by them from the 1970s onward. (The first was "After the Ball," followed by "Who Shall Rule," "Vaudeville," and collections of songs by Eubie Blake, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and so on.)

#44 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2017, 07:40 PM:

Something that goes with me almost everywhere is the pocketknife my father gave me when I was about 12. It's an old Schrade farmer's knife that belonged to my grandmother; she may have used it to prune and graft fruit trees.

#45 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2017, 10:04 AM:

I inherited a few things from my paternal grandmother, mostly jewelry, but the most unique is a cedar chest that was built by her father, probably in the late 1920s. It's still mostly in good condition, with her name inlaid in the top; I remember it in her bedroom, full of blankets. It locks with an enormous iron key, but somewhere in the intervening years the top half of the lock has vanished, and I keep wondering if it's possible to get it re-made.

Neither I nor my brother have children, and my father was an only child. So I have no idea where this thing will go when I die. Dad has many cousins, but they are all three thousand miles away.

#46 ::: filkferengi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2017, 10:36 AM:

Speaking of grandfathers and clocks, Julianne Holmes' Clock Shop mysteries, in which a master clockmaker inherits her grandfather's shop, are excellent.

#47 ::: Ceecy Nucker ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2017, 12:37 PM:

A longcase clock came to be known as a grandfather clock because of the popularity of the poem/song. A grandmother clock is commonly the shorter version, not a mantel clock. I love the verse and am going to try to memorize it asap.
My brother has our grandfather's handmade sawhorses, must be some 75 or 80 years old now. We called him Pop-pop, which brother's grandkids have just started spontaneously calling him. So they're still Pop-pop's sawhorses.

#48 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2017, 01:48 PM:

Affenschmidt writes in #24:

Frank Hayes' version cropped up frequently at filksings in college

I see that Frank Hayes will be Music Guest of Honor at the next Worldcon in San Jose. Good idea.

#49 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2017, 08:33 PM:

@Ceecy Nucker, my mother told me (some thirty or forty years ago) that the difference between a grandmother clock and a grandfather clock is that on a grandfather clock the pendulum is visible behind a glass or perforated wood panel, but a grandmother clock has an opaque wooden panel that hides the pendulum (and is therefore "modest"). I've always assumed that was correct and never tried to verify it with actual authorities on tall floor-standing clocks....

#50 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 06:53 AM:

My maternal grandmother had a real liking for Royal Albert china in the "Old Country Roses" pattern. When she died (the last of my grandparents to do so) I got a teacup, saucer and plate set as a memento of her. I keep it, even though quite frankly I'm of the opinion the stuff looks incredibly hideous and entirely too ornate and fussy for words. It was her little luxury (and looking at the price of the stuff these days, the set is going to remain safely wrapped up in bubble wrap until we have somewhere safe to stow things which are solely for looking at and dusting).

I wish I had something similar to remember my paternal grandparents by. As it stands, the only thing I really inherited from them was the surname and the mental illness.

#51 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 05:42 PM:

Each time I read comments on this thread, I am reminded of my Someday Project to sort and repair-- or reassemble at least-- my mother's mother's teacups and saucers. There was a horrible shelf accident, and they've moved at least twice in their box, all broken. If I win the lottery, I'll hire an archaeology student to spend a summer with them or something. I don't know what I'd do with the finished items-- they were for display, not drinking, and I've no experience with the gold-mending technique-- but it would be nice to try.

#52 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 06:04 PM:

I don't know who got my mother's mother's Bavarian china and glassware - it was a wedding present to her, back in 1919 - but I had my father's parents' silverplate that their kids bought for them in the 30s, and after adding pieces to it (and getting a chest), I gave them to my brother's son, who was the only one of his kids who had ever met her.

#53 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 10:53 PM:

@ Diatryma 51-- The archaeology lab I worked in began piecing broken ceramics with a roll of painter's tape to stick the bits together any time you found a match. Try to keep the tape on undecorated surfaces as much as possible. Great fun for those of us who like tactile puzzles, and the tape also helps hold everything together if you get to the point of wanting glue to set. (Is it odd to be vaguely envious of someone else's box of worth-piecing broken ceramics?)


I have three of my grandfather's oil paintings (landscapes), one of them in a frame my father made for it when I inherited it. I always thought of my artistic/crafty tendencies as a female line thing, as I learned sewing from my mother & crochet from her mother, but one of the things that occurred to me when my father died is that he was a much more consistent maker of things than my mother, and taught me the skills to build my own bookshelves and suchlike. And his father had some of my tendency to acquire supplies for crafts he never got around to doing.

#54 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 11:01 PM:

I don't know if the teacups are worth piecing together to anyone other than me, but painter's tape is a good suggestion. As long as I manage to remove it promptly when I'm done-- a bit of family tradition is to... know about, I guess, the masking tape around the light fixtures in the living room. There's been a bounty on that masking tape for at least fifteen years. It will probably outlast my family's time in the house.

I realized just now that most of us see the objects as stories. Do you think that the advice (usually to kids or former students who do and don't want to move their textbooks yet again) to take pictures of treasured but less-feasible things... hm. I guess it has a limit, where the object is an object in addition to a memory or story. Context in all things.

#55 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2017, 11:16 PM:

Dunno whether this would reassemble teacups sturdily enough to actually hold hot tea again, but what about UV-cured resins? thougn dentists seem fine with using them for cavity repair and all the attendant thermal/mechanical stresses. Amazon seems to have at least one brand that claims to be settable by sunlight... prolly not dentistry grade, but also not requiring a special UV light.

#56 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2017, 11:04 AM:

...although I would venture to guess that the thermal stress experienced by dental work lands in a significantly narrower band than a tea cup. At least, I would hope so.

#57 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2017, 01:11 PM:

thanate: "(Is it odd to be vaguely envious of someone else's box of worth-piecing broken ceramics?)"

There are people who make a hobby of untangling yarn.

#58 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2017, 02:42 PM:

I've more or less forgiven my sister for quickly selling off my father's tools 34 years ago; I've never really had space to use them (and certainly didn't then), and she was in a hurry to get back to a religious outreach program, not to mention willing to deal with a lot of post-mortem mechanics that I wouldn't have had patience/organization for. But three of the better products of those tools are the bookcases I can see while typing this; they're still sturdy (and good-looking) 80-plus years after they were built. (I suspect the later ones, which have recessed shelf tracks, were the reason he bought the Stanley plow plane.) I was reminded of them again at my mother's funeral, when a cousin remarked that she still had the stool I'd made for her (under my father's extensive guidance) 39 years before (its duration a testament to the effectiveness of that guidance).

Tom Whitmore @ 14: Then there are the really unexpected things silver can reveal; I was almost appalled many decades ago to find out via some spoons that my father was related (by marriage, IIRC) to the St. Johns who ran Choate (which had just been the subject of the ... frank ... A World of Our Own).

#59 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2017, 03:02 PM:

I have a blanket/"hope" chest my great-grandfather made for his oldest daughter. (He died in 1924; she married in 1925 or 1926, at the age of 45.)
It needs new casters, and of course I can't find ones that will fit the existing holes.

#60 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2017, 04:24 PM:

I got several of my father's wood planes when he died. I think at least one of them was from my Mother's father. It's not that I ever expected to use them, but I'd seen them in his shop for years and they remind me of him.

#61 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2017, 06:40 PM:

I have a few kitchen tools and dishes that were my mothers that I use with pleasure. I don't think I own anything that was my father's, which is a pity. It would probably have been books; I might have a couple downstairs. It would not have been tools. At my father's memorial service, his best friend for more than 50 years had a story about Dad living with the friend and his wife in housing-strapped DC immediately post WWII (before he met my mom), volunteering to help with painting the apartment, and being told after the second or third mishap "No, really, you don't have to help."

#62 ::: Zandy ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2017, 05:17 PM:

Growing up in the south of England in the 1970s we sang the song a lot as a family. It was one of our staples to sing on long car journeys without a radio.

As an adult I have visited the George Hotel in Piercebridge near Darlington where the clock that inspired the original poem is housed. I'm afraid that it is not terribly impressive.

#63 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2017, 05:52 PM:

@Abi : Thank you, thank you.

@Mom 34 : Delightful! also thank you!

@Nancy Lebovitz 57 : around here, we've mostly called them fellow weavers. There are a few cheerful souls in my weavers guild who may just need, need I tell you, to hear of this gang of detanglers, if they're not already familiar (or members thereof)!

@filkferengi 46 : Oh dear. I've just been introduced to the term "cosy mystery" already knowing I like them some (a great guilty pleasure to be sure), having met an author of same at a recent Showcase of Miniatures, and bought a few of her related books to enjoy. Now I want to find or make a 1":1' working Grandmother's Clock.

On inheriting sacred tools: I have a few, and they are treasures, from family born and chosen.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2017, 12:44 PM:

Ruth: Now I want one, too.

And they're not even hideously expensive.

What do you suppose their chimes sound like? ting ting ting...?

#65 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2017, 11:00 PM:

I miss the clock my great-grandparents had that chimed eight-bells.

#66 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2017, 09:14 PM:

Oh Abi, that is beautiful. And it makes me want to get our Seth Thomas office clock working again. Apparently my father got it from a job when it went out of business, then gave it to my mom's mom to keep because she liked it and could keep it until mom and dad settled somewhere.

It was the heartbeat of my grandma's house. Didn't do anything fancy like chime, but it worked. And mom and dad got it back late in grandma's life and put it in their country house.

I'm not sure when it stopped working, but a) mom had us stop the clocks (we also had a giant, fancy grandfather clock) when dad died and b) that clock was up in his study, and mom didn't go upstairs much after dad died.

It was one of the two or three things I wanted from my parents' house. The other was a giant dictionary from the 30s that had been a great aunts, and its' stand.

And I need to find a clock repair service.

But your piece was lovely. Hugs to all, I've been away too long.

#67 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2017, 01:34 PM:

I knew both grandmothers, and one grandfather. My dad's mother gave me the basic rules of card games, like poker and gin rummy, and how to bluff. Her culinary skills also left me with a life-long appreciation of burnt toast and crispy entrees (seriously, I do like them. My wife thinks the toast is burned up, when I consider it well-done.) Her life was not easy, particularly when she was a child in Ireland, abandoned by their mother around the age of 12. She trained for a life "in service", then escaped to America, but she never spoke about her life. We had to find out from relatives still in Ireland. I think she never really gave herself full credit for her accomplishments, but she was kind and generous to her grandchildren.

My mom's mother is the grandma I was especially close to, and she was a baker of extraordinary skills. I am chuffed, nay, frelling to have her cutting board and rolling pin, both extra large and likely hand-made by my grandfather or his dad (a carpenter). I've used them to bake, and remembered all the little tricks she taught me when I was just a tiny child watching her create magic. It gives me great pleasure to know her rolling pin still creates magic.

My grandfather died when I was 12, so I didn't really get to know him well enough. He had a workshop in their house, filled with his tools and his father's tools. My dad -- his son-in-law -- kept the tools to use. It's hard to believe that 40 years have passed since he died, but they have, and I have a basement workshop that needs fixing up. It's the last bit of the house that remains unfixed-up, so I've been carefully prying up old asbestos tiles and just as carefully extracting asbestos-containing mastic (allowed by the county I live in, following all their rules). I plan to repaint the area, and then place new cabinets and workspace to make this a nice little shop, not a space where one could expect to film a horror movie. Ahem. (Have you seen camel crickets? That's a horror film right there.)

#68 ::: lew ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2017, 09:45 PM:

That's a wonderful use of "secondhand". Two allusions, and it's hard to sing without being clear and clicky ticky-tocky.

#69 ::: Victoria LEcuyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2017, 09:51 PM:

Dad sang that song (along with pioneer songs he got from his father) all the time while I was growing up. About 20 years ago, I was tutoring conversational English for a Japanese exchange teacher. It turned out she sang that song in elementary school as part of the daily warmups. One weekend I took Chie home (she'd never seen a working farm and was curious) and she sang the song in Japanese for him. It turned into an earworm that he sang all weekend long. ...and Dad had a lovely baritone voice that Projected Very Easily.

As for maternal inheritences... I have two of my paternal grandmother's quilts, some of my maternal grandmother's kitchen stuff, both women's talents at crafting, frugality and a tendency to packrat everything.

#70 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2017, 08:34 PM:

"If it's craft supplies, it's not either hoarding!!"

I learned last week that Boulder's Michaels moved from across town to about three blocks from my house, and doubled their square footage. ::whimper:: And it's on the way to McGuckins.

#71 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2017, 04:11 PM:

@Jacques: sounds like the reaction I (or at least my wallet) used to have on walking into the Tor party at Wiscon (the biggest suite in the hotel, with the walls covered with upcoming books).

Surfacing memory returning to the neighborhood of the trigger of this topic: a couple of decades ago, when we moved local fandom's chief tinkerer (Monty Wells -- also NESFA's perennial Punster of the Year), one of the things he showed us was temperature-compensated longcase-clock weights; they were hollow, partly full of mercury that was supposed to expand (moving the CG upward) when heat made the pendulum lengthen (moving its CG downward). AFAIK he never owned such a clock, but the idea of the weights was too cool to let them pass by wherever he'd found them. There's no dedication plate, but we're reminded of his work every time we set foot in the NESFA clubhouse.

#72 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2017, 05:06 AM:

CHip @ #71:

There's such a pendulum-regulated chronometer in the computing department at the University of Malmö I find the idea fascinating, although one would by necessity get the width of the hollow pendulum very right.

#73 ::: Sean ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2017, 02:58 PM:

I love this.
I would like to keep it with your name attached.
Is that OK?

A fellow science fiction and fantasy folk song enthusiast (filker) Frank Hayes created a more risque Grandfather's clock quite a while back.

#74 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2017, 10:40 PM:

I have now spent some time on shopgoodwill looking at mantel clocks. Life would be easier if I hadn't taken a dislike to the Westminster chimes, or if I were really willing to buy one of them.

There's a clock at one job site I've worked at that does the Whittington chimes. They're lovely, if out of tune on that particular clock. And I could tell the student to keep an ear out rather than having her phone available or relying on me.

#75 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2018, 05:53 PM:

@ Ruth Temple 63 : I suspect those are the "cosy mysteries" of Camille Minichino, Ph.D. (several themed series, each under a different name; she uses her own name for the Periodic Table Mysteries). I discovered her at the Showcase of Miniatures (AKA Good Sam Show, mid-October in San Jose, CA), and have an autographed copy of _How to Live With an Engineer_ (non-fiction).

The Showcase of Miniatures has mind-boggling, jaw-droppingly perfect tiny replicas of stuff. One of my favorites is the _working_ dollhouse scale toy trains from IDL Motors (inch-long engines and cars; the "track" is actually a flat linear induction motor).

#76 ::: Abi's Mom ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2018, 10:24 PM:

This is so beautiful Abi. I am sure your grandmother, my mother, would like it very much.

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