RSS Feed

The Cuckoo Clock

 

When I was little, my brother and I slept over at Grandpa and Grandma’s house in Chappaqua. We stayed in the guestroom, with the two twin beds at perpendicular angles, and while we were there we were almost like friends. My brother is two years older than me and, at home, I was a bother and a nuisance, but at Grandpa’s house we were a team. He needed me as much as I needed him, because we were in a strange place and didn’t know what to do, though, of course, he still didn’t want to actually talk to me.

There was some vague sense that our presence was a problem for Grandma, and that we really shouldn’t be seen, or heard. There were glass figurines by the front door – which no one ever used – and I was not allowed to play with them, though there are pictures of me trying to touch them as a toddler. They had no children’s books that I remember, or toys. Grandma had tambourines and maracas and two strange little keyboard/recorder hybrids on top of the piano, and we were allowed to play with those, I think, but not for too long, and not if we gave her a headache.

"What?"

“What?”

My grandparents’ house was built into a hill, so that on one side of the house, the first floor you saw was the main floor of the house – well lit, sunny, and facing a green lawn – and on the other side of the house, the first floor you saw was the garage, and basement, and laundry room – dark and mildewed, and with a rickety stairway up to the main floor. We always entered the house through the laundry room and walked up the rickety stairway into the light.

Me in the living room, looking for the light.

Me in the living room, looking for the light.

When we first arrived, we sat awkwardly in the big chairs at the dining room table and ate butter cookies from a blue tin, and listened to the chimes of the grandfather clock. I don’t remember Grandma talking to us much, except to say no, and don’t do that. She liked for us to sit quietly on the floor and look through old family photo albums with strangers in them who she never identified. For entertainment, we’d crack open nuts from the nut bowl, and that’s how I found out that I loved hazelnuts, and hated brazil nuts, and found walnuts incredibly frustrating to work with.

There was dust everywhere, hanging on the rays of sunshine coming through the windows. And there was a hidden attic, with stairs that had to be pulled down from the ceiling, and there was a laundry chute in the wall that sent the dirty clothes down a slide to the laundry room. We were not allowed to try the ride for ourselves; we asked.

Grandpa took me and my brother food shopping at the local Grand Union, after snacks, and educated us about the wonders of “Red Dot Specials,” and out-of-date bread, and slightly bruised fruit. He’d spent a lifetime teaching Consumer Education and he wanted to share it all with us. He’s probably the reason I’ve always loved supermarkets; he made them seem like magical places, full of everything we could ever need.

Grandpa

Grandpa

He drove us there in his white Mercedes convertible, so that we could feel what it was like to drive with the top down, but I think he also took us out to give Grandma a break from having children in her house.

When we came back, we put the groceries away and then went down to the garage. The house sat on a big piece of property, mostly taken up by a pond. Grandpa had rowboat and life vests and oars hung up in the garage, as if it were a boat house, which it sort of was, and he’d take the row boat out on the pond as often as possible. I’m not really sure what he did out there, because I refused to get in the boat. The water in the pond was an opaque green and I was certain that there were evil creatures skittering around in there. I expected the Loch Ness monster to jump up and roar at any moment. I was even afraid to walk across the little wooden bridge to sit on the bench by the water to wait for Grandpa and my brother to come back, because I expected eels to fly up and grab my legs. I preferred to stand in the driveway, or over by the little stream, where the monsters couldn’t get me.

Late at night, they took us out for ice cream (maybe at eight PM, but it felt like midnight to me) and we ate ice cream sundaes, and brought home candy necklaces, and candy dots, and red licorice strings, and my brother even shared some of his with me, because I ate faster than he did, and because he was better at saving some for later.

At night, though, the house was too quiet. They didn’t have a dog anymore. I would hear about Rufus, the small, shaggy dog my grandmother used to dote on, but by the time I was born there was no sign of a dog in their house, no toe nails clicking on the hardwood floors.

Rufus

Rufus

But, there was the cuckoo clock in the guest room. It was so loud! Every hour, it seemed, the little bird would pop out of the front door of the clock and make noise, and it felt like the whole clock was giggling and shaking. I could hear the tick tick of the cuckoo clock all night. It was wonderful! I looked forward to visits from that cuckoo, like a long lost friend, checking to make sure I was alright. I always wanted to bring the cuckoo clock home with me, but everyone said no.

A Cuckoo Clock (not mine).

A Cuckoo Clock (not mine).

When the dogs wake me up now, at way-too-early in the morning, they remind me of that cuckoo clock. They have the same persistence as the cuckoo, the same cacophony of noise, and the same visible shaking from making all of that noise, as if any second their pieces are going to pop out from excitement. Their little tails wag like metronomes and remind me of the pendulum swinging side to side at the bottom of the clock. And I feel that same sense of relief I felt when the cuckoo came to visit. I’m not alone! Someone else is here, and talking to me. Hello!

"Who us?"

“Who us?”

Advertisements

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

84 responses »

  1. Ah ………………. the stuff of childhood memories! Aren’t they wonderful? 🙂

    Reply
  2. Thanks for taking us on a visit to your happier memories! (… really? eels??!)

    Reply
  3. I, too, love supermarkets. I was laid off my writing job in January and am doing okay freelancing but I’m toying with applying for a job as a shopper for their “at home” shopper service – to earn a teeny bit extra.
    i think it would be a delightful job, just going up and down the aisles. filling someone else’s shopping order; no dealing with people – a totally stress-free job. What do you think?

    Reply
  4. Great childhood memories! Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  5. There was an awful lot of no in the story. My aunt and uncle’s house has a cuckoo clock and hearing it would make me feel safe too, they still had dogs up until a few years ago and hearing the dogs make their rounds around the house checking on every room to make sure everything was fine was also helpful. Dogs help with sleeping big time. 🙂

    Reply
  6. This was beautiful, Rachel. I’m about to become a Grandmother, and I think a lot about how my little one will remember me some day. Your Grandmother makes me sad; she didn’t get to enjoy the pleasure of having children in her house.

    Reply
    • Grandparents are the stars of a child’s universe. It doesn’t take much to leave an impact. My mom started collecting leaves with my nephews, and making walnut boats, and then every time she went to their house, they were ready for the leaves and the boats. They loved the things she loved, because they loved her.

      Reply
  7. Another great post Rachel! It’s funny because today I wrote what was maybe going to be a potential post and I had written about something and wrote like a long lost friend.. We were on kind of the same wavelength..lol!

    Reply
  8. Your grandpa sounds so wonderful, Rachel! Really–a Mercedes convertible to the grocery store?! I love it. My first job was as a checkout clerk at A&P. To this day, I truly love food shopping–and seeking out the specials so I can splurge at Whole Food and The Fresh Market!

    Reply
  9. Loved it. Your grandma really missed the boat. Good you had Grandpa and your brother. I loved every minute with my grandma.

    Reply
  10. Thanks for sharing your childhood memories.

    Reply
  11. Nuts? You are what you eat. My peep remembers the opening of a Grand Union in Dobbs Ferry. Whooo boy, I shouldn’t have mentioned that.

    Reply
  12. Lovely post and lovely memories, although perhaps (like so many childhood memories) a little bittersweet. My parents have always had a cuckoo clock, too. Actually, they have 2 now, but the one they have had all my life is my favorite. I still love that clock.

    Reply
  13. I remember cuckoo clocks! That was a very nice post…thanks for sharing your memories and insights.

    Reply
  14. This is charming and clear as day.

    Reply
  15. You seem to have some fond memories… That is a nice shot of you

    Reply
  16. By the time I was old enough to take notice of the world I only had one grandparent left – my mother’s father – and he was such fun to be with. He lived in a residential hotel but spent Friday evenings and Sundays with us. He told us jokes and wonderful stories of his life as a steam train driver.

    My father’s parents both died when I was too small to remember much of them, but we inherited their house and lived there for my entire childhood and teen years, so I always had a sense of their history with so many of their lovely old things around me. One of these was a cuckoo clock on the lounge wall. It was dark wood, beautifully carved, and I too was fascinated by the little bird that never popped out for long enough, but was always waiting inside for its next appearance.

    Thank you for sharing your childhood memories and reminding me of some of mine.

    Reply
  17. A well written and clearly remembered piece, albeit not very happy times. I don’t think your grandparents, however, were both as unwelcoming as my maternal ones. Loved the clicking toenails – sums up the absence perfectly

    Reply
  18. I love how vivid your memories are, right down to the blue tin of cookies, and the wonderful analogy of the clock and your four legged friends!

    Reply
  19. I loved the stories about your grandparents and I loved the pictures of you and your grandfather and Rufus. I am so glad to know you had your grandparents and that your granddad was good to you. My parents and I lived with my maternal grandmother until I was 13 and my paternal grandparents lived right down a little hill from me. It was grandparent heaven! You would enjoy my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing.
    Thanks for sharing the pictures, too!!

    Reply
  20. I’ve come to look forward to your posts, Rachel. Your stories are so delightful. I love all your photos and how you manage to always connect your dogs to every topic you write about. Thanks for sharing your talent!

    Reply
  21. My grandparents owned a KOA campground and we would go there in the summer. My grandpa helped us catch a snake once. We put it in a coffee can and he said “go show your grandmother, she will like it”. Needless to say, we were all in the doghouse after that! I never attempted to take a snake into my grandmothers house again 🙂

    Reply
    • We used to go to a KOA campground every summer! My brother and I would sit in the back seat of the car chanting K-O-A over and over again. We did the same thing with “water tower” and “airplane.” I think, at some point, a random snake in a can would have been appreciated, if only for a change of pace.

      Reply
  22. hello rachelmankowitz its dennis the vizsla dog hay my dada sez his nana and papa had a kookoo klock too!!! it must be a nana and papa thing!!! ok bye

    Reply
  23. You have brought back magic memories of visits to my grandparents. You have should a gift of capturing the past.

    Reply
  24. What a beautiful childhood you had, with such vivid memories! My family was not close to theirs, so I never knew my grandparents on either side very well at all. I WAS close to my maternal grandmother (by report) but she died when I was almost 4. I don’t remember her much, but I do remember, sometimes, how her house smelled, the way the light would come through the windows, the furniture. I think it is amazing that you got to spend time with your grandparents and bring away memories that you can share with us now. And yes, the furry kids are a bit like a cuckoo clock, wound up after a night asleep, and ready to burst out of their house and take on the world. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
  25. dogs are little angels from heaven, i’m convinced of this, there is no use trying to talk me out of it 🙂

    Reply
  26. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories, Rachel 🙂

    Reply
  27. Sadly I never met my Grandparents. They were war people and many European people of that generation passed away fairly early. So I missed out on that. My older sisters didn’t, but I did. I did however, stay with my uncle and aunt from time to time and they had a big old grandfather clock which fascinated me. Growing up in Scotland we didn’t have shopping malls and I was only introduced to shopping malls when we moved to Australia. I guess I’m a bit of a “Mall Troll” I love wandering through shopping malls. I find them fascinating places and wherever I travel to I always look for the nearest shopping center or mall. Yes, odd, very, but there you are.

    Reply
  28. You have such a wonderful way of desccribing what you see or feel and of past memories. Thank you for sharing. I really enjoy reading your posts. 🙂

    Reply
  29. Reminiscing my childhood days … We also used to have a cuckoo clock… Beautifully written !

    Reply
  30. Beautiful piece, so vividly remembered and rendered. Thanks.

    Reply
  31. Memories are so key to who we are.

    Reply
  32. Great post. My Father had a cuckoo clock also. Listened to it while watching boring television shows my parents selected. But I would love to have it if for no other reason than to remember him as he would care for the clock.

    Reply
  33. Such wonderful memories.

    Reply
  34. Ah, the burdens of childhood! It is a truth NOT universally acknowledged that some grandparents are not over-enamored of children. I used to stay with three old maiden aunts in Torquay sometimes, on what my mother euphemistically described as a holiday. I have memories of darkened Victorian rooms full of mahogany and a particularly heavy kind of silence…ah, well!

    Reply
  35. You’re a fantastic writer! Your memories came to life. I can appreciate your cuckoo-clock reference. My Grandparents had an old victorian clock where the bird would appear from behind its door chirping each hour. They cherished this piece purchased when visiting their home land of Ireland. Guess what’s in our home? I smile thinking of them throughout the day. Have a wonderful weekend!

    Reply
  36. My Dad’s mother wasn’t good with children despite having 7 of her own. Oh. You’ll appreciate that Bilbo has just come inside after being in the rain and there’s that inimitable wet dog smell. Think it could be time for bed. We Australians do not cope well with the cold, rain or this strange season we get called Winter.

    Reply
    • Those poor wet dogs. They look so miserable and uncomfortable. That must be why they have to roll around on all of the best furniture and clothing in the house, to make them feel better.

      Reply
  37. I absolutely love this story and your memories are told with such clarity. I’ve nominated your blog for The Versatile Blogger Award. You may find the details at:
    https://spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/my-first-award/

    I apologize for being a few days behind in notifying you – I was having issues with leaving comments!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: