I don’t believe in traditional ghosts, like Halloween or Casper or spirits that moan in the night, but I believe, with hope, in the spirits of my kin, in the power of DNA and mitochondria and hearts to reach beyond the grave. I do believe in Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. I am alert to meaningful ghosts, benevolent spirits.
So on Thanksgiving morning when the remnants of the McDaniel and Stewart clans drove down Pea Hill and across Jackson Lake, while I was preparing a Thanksgiving feast, Lo! a spirit contacted me, and I was not afraid.
Casseroles and turkey, desserts and pork butt were in the ovens and on the buffet. I walked around checking for clean towels in the bathroom, turned on some welcoming lamps, and straightened some pillows.
I was headed back to the kitchen when I noticed that my Stewart family clock was not centered below my Liz Carmichael-Jones print. When I slid it over the rough marble-topped washstand and stepped back to eyeball its position, the clock started ticking. It had not ticked in 10 years. In addition it had been recalcitrant and stubborn for years before that when it sat on my mother’s mantle, and then my sister’s mantle. All of us had spent money with recommended clockmakers and jewelers to no avail.
But the vintage clock was ticking. And then about 30 minutes later it bonged. It doesn’t chime, it bongs and echoes, and the buzz and scrape of the mechanism is almost as loud as the bong. It was five hours off, but I wasn’t worried about setting it, this clock that never kept good time after it left the farm — I think it was an eight-day clock, and who can remember to set a clock every eight days? Well, Paw Paw Stewart could and did.
The clock was never valuable; is not valuable today. My grandparents probably paid less than $25 for it in the ’30s. I recently saw an identical one on e-bay for $128. It was a practical item that stood on the mantel in the front room beating out the rhythm on the sound track for all my Alabama visits: A sound track that included creaking rockers, squeaking porch swings, the morning rooster, the evening cows, lowing to be milked, the crackling fire in the pot bellied stove, the cats running over the linoleum floors, and the fearsome sound of an armful of wood being dumped into the wood box. The sound track included Paw Paw’s fearsome silences and grunts, as well.
When my family arrived, I led them into the front hall, and said, “Listen,” and they laughed, and wiped their misty eyes. We all understood that this clock would never become a dependable time piece, its time for keeping time is past.
But what did it mean that the family clock, dead for many years and ill before that, had resurrected itself (with a tiny push from me) on Thanksgiving Day 2019?
What were Maw Maw and Paw Paw, Aunt Eusella, Hassie Lee and Travis trying to tell me by sparking the clock back into life?
♦ My life is limited by time.
♦ As they lived and died, so will I.
♦ Time is passing. Tick. Tick. Tick
♦ Don’t waste time: shell the pecans, shuck the corn, grind the corn, plane the lumber, plow the fields, fix the tractor. Hoe to the end of the row.
But there was more. I studied the clock and it revealed another message.
When my grandparents chose this clock they went a bit rogue. It does not reflect their rural, agricultural lives. The clock is classical with an arched top supported by symmetrical columns. The columns and the arch are decorated with carved acanthus leaves. Rope molding defines the base. And the gold design on the glass clock face is a fire-breathing dragon with a circling tail.
They had their moments. Before rural electrification brought lights to the farm, Paw Paw purchased a 32-volt DC generator to power a radio and tuned it to the Louisiana Hayride. He bought a player piano with a hundred rolls of music. He had fancy gadgets in the shop.
A fire-breathing dragon with the circling tail confirms his fanciful side.
Later in our group blessing, where everyone must speak from the heart, even the 4-year-old who was thankful for “all of us,” my son remembered to be thankful for those of our family who lie in the cemetery.
“I am thankful for all those who are not here in person,” he said, “but in our hearts and minds.”
And the clock ticked its agreement.