Monday, May 5, 2014

Tick Tock

     We have clocks in our house, a lot of clocks—but not too many. It isn’t that we have an obsession with time; it is simply that my husband and I both love the sound of them. Some of our clocks have pendulums that speak in the language we all expect from a timekeeper: tick tock, tick tock, tick tock—whispering the passage of minutes. Some of them mark every quarter of every hour of every day with a Westminster Chime. We have our clocks set so that they don’t all begin talking at once, and unless I have a bout of insomnia at night, I hardly notice them. When I am desperate to fall asleep, however, all of that ticking and chiming shouts at me through the dark house and hammers my nerves.

     Some friends of ours who moved away a few years ago recently stayed with us for a week. They asked us to turn our clocks off at night because the noise kept them awake. Of course, we were happy to comply, but it struck us all as funny because, before they retired, our friends had owned a clock shop and filled their own home with dozens of them.

     Now I am wondering how many other overnight guests have been disturbed by our clocks but were too timid to mention it. For us, the sound has become a kind of white noise that seldom bothers us unless it stops. When the clocks stop the house is too quiet, which seems an odd thing to say because I crave quiet. I don’t listen to the radio, hardly ever turn the television on until after dinner, and even though I enjoy music, I don’t often listen to it because quiet is my music.

     I suppose clock talk punctuates the quiet so I know it is there; the commas between unnumbered ticks and the semicolons of the advancing chimes give it shape. When the grandchildren have gone home, the television and stereo are turned off, and my husband is away on a trip or asleep, when the house is still enough to heed the ticking of a clock, that is when I hear the quiet.

     Still, we don't want our clocks shouting at you while you are trying to sleep, so next time you come for an overnight visit,  remind us to stop them from interrupting your rest.

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Edward Lamson Henry


  1. Loved this charming vignette! Our clocks are silent. Digital. I love their graphic faces.

  2. Sometimes I too am kept awake by the mighty Humanities Beacon Clock striking half past three in the afternoon, my dear.