It all began with a cuckoo clock. More accurately, it began with the remains of a cuckoo clock.
“Here. We thought you might want these back,” my cousin said as he shoved a cardboard box into my mom’s hands.
Inside lived the ruins of an antique cuckoo clock that belonged to my grandmother who had passed the year before. What at one time had been a rich, dark wood clock with delicate birds and leaves carved on the sides, now resided in faded pieces in a sad moving box. In its prime, it hung in the den in my grandmother’s home where the sound of the suspended pinecones gently knocked together at the bottom marking the hours ticking by.
The pile of splintered scraps seemed like a sad ending for the former heartbeat of her house whose pinecones now rested like injured soldiers on a battlestruck moor. Sickened by the sight of the clock, my mom became understandably angry.
The Clock’s Rich History
However, her anger didn’t truly belong at my cousin’s feet. He didn’t know the pedigree of this particular clock. He didn’t know an army base near Munich, where my grandfather once served as a Master Sergeant, had been its original home.
My cousin had no idea that the clock once belonged to a peddler who had a fondness for American goods and would travel from home-to-home and trade whatever he had on hand for American peanut butter or mayonnaise. The same peddler that, when he encountered the young American mother with three toddlers standing behind her, probably assumed that he struck pay dirt.
“Surely, she would have plenty of peanut butter from home and would be up for a trade,” he probably thought.
And he would be right. She did. And as he walked away with the peanut butter feeling like he won, that mother is the one who truly came out ahead (at least we think so) with an authentic German Schonach clock.
Since then, the clock had journeyed from Germany to Texas and then Chicago before landing in Alabama where it hung until after her death. I do not recall exactly who removed it from the living room wall as those details are blurred by the cloud that accompanies grief. You try to remember the specifics, but they are foggy.
What I do know for sure is that I did not give the clock another thought, until my mother told me the story behind it after the pieces had been returned to her. And in that moment, I felt regret. I ached that during the initial clean out of my grandmother’s home the year prior, none of us had grabbed it off the wall before it could succumb to its current fate. Only my mother, who had been absent through the clean out, knew of the clock’s fascinating heritage.
My grandmother adored a good story. She loved to read them almost as much as she reveled in telling them, so I know that she would have wanted to personally tell the story to whomever received the clock. There just wasn’t enough time. (No pun intended.)
What are the lessons to be learned from the clock? For me, it is kindness. My grandmother always treated a stranger with kindness. In retelling the histories of these items we find, we are able to walk these guiding light principles and values across the bridge from the past towards the future where they hopefully can be resurrected and find places to create an impact.
And her kindness towards others is a value that I would escort back across that bridge any day of the week and twice on Sunday. We all need more of it in the world.
The second lesson is engagement. Engagement in the world around us, our communities, and those who differ from us invites growth. And if nothing else, let this story and this blog serve as your call to engagement.