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Tick tock… cuckoo!

Yesterday, January 24th, would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary.

It was not a match made in heaven.

cuckooDespite managing to stay together more than a quarter century before finally throwing in the towel, and despite sharing in the creation of a passel of kids, my parents disagreed far more than they agreed.

My father was German and loved herring and stinky Limburger cheese; my mother was from West Texas and loved okra and chiles. My father was raised an only child; my mother was one of 12, 10 of whom lived to adulthood. My mother was basically lackadaisical about time; my father loved clocks.

Two clocks, in particular.

One hung over the fireplace in the living room. A great big wall-mounted version of a grandfather clock, is the way I always thought of it. It was probably three feet tall, with a great big face, and it gonged out the hours and half hours with what I recall was a Westminster chime.

And it had to be wound, with a key, on a regular basis. A job in which my father delighted. It appealed to his German soul.

The other hung on the wall at the top of the stairs in the Dutch colonial home where I grew up. If you’re not familiar with the layout of a Dutch colonial, every one I’ve ever been in has stairs that begin in the living room, rise two or three steps to a landing, turn and go up a flight to another landing and then turn and rise two or three steps to a hallway.

And on the wall above the second landing was the clock.

The cuckoo clock.

It wasn’t particularly large, as I recall. Perhaps 12 or 15 inches in height. Like all traditional cuckoo clocks, it was powered by weights and chains. And, as often as need be, my father would pull the chains to raise the weights that powered the clock movements.

It looked quite a bit like the one you see here: with the one door at the top — for the cuckoo that appeared once an hour, every hour, on the hour, to announce the time.

I don’t recall it being any kind of a family heirloom — I believe it was something my parents acquired during a year-long residence in Europe when my sister and I were small.

And I absolutely know we had it in the house I grew up in by the time my brother Paul was born.

I know that because of the email I received yesterday from my mother’s youngest sister, my Aunt Trisha. I’ve been laughing ever since, and I have to share this.

First, the players in this drama. My grandmother, Opal Robertson Cottrell. My aunt Trisha, the youngest of my mother’s siblings, who would have been not quite 13 at the time. The cousins, Susan and Barbara, children of other aunts who worked and had to leave them in my grandmother’s care. Both of them would have been toddlers — not more than 12 to 18 months old.

And the key player: the clock.

And so the story begins…

“Talking … over a cup of tea a while ago, I recalled an event you have probably forgotten,” Trisha wrote, “if you ever realized it.” (I don’t remember this at all.) And, she continued:

“It, of course, involved the beautiful, authentic, large, deadly accurate cuckoo clock which was apparently the pride and joy of your father and which hung in the upper hallway of the house in Edison.”

“When Paul was born, Mother and I came to see if we could help for a few days and, of course, had to bring Susan and, I believe, Barbara. Neither of the toddlers cared for changing cribs and houses and routines and were wakeful and fretful and, well, holy terrors.”

“After long stressful days, Mom and I would finally get the little darlings to sleep only to have the huge cuckoo clock accurately and very loudly proclaim the hours, minutes, and it even seemed, seconds. It didn’t take very many times before I was determined to catch the cuckoo out of his protective enclosure and shut him up once and for all.”

“Fortunately for family peace, Mother wouldn’t let me.”

“As much as I love clocks and as much as I admire the beauty and workmanship of the cuckoo clocks, to this day I have a deep and abiding animosity toward them.”

Now… what does it say about me that I’m already plotting a birthday or Christmas gift…?

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