Stop the Clock

While we were building our current home, my family and I stored most of our possessions. Then, a little over a year later, these things were delivered to our new house. What a happy day! It was like Christmas in August, each carefully packed box revealing something precious that we’d forgotten we even had. Among these cherished items was a grandmother clock from my childhood home, which had come to live in our home before my daughter, Laurel, could even climb stairs. When Laurel first heard that clock ring out in our new house, she froze, gasped, and exclaimed, “The clock! The clock! Now this house feels like home!” And I understood completely.

But in the weeks that followed, I realized that something had gone wrong with the clock somewhere between moving and storage, because it no longer kept the correct time. I remember thinking, What good is a clock that announces the wrong time every fifteen minutes? So, I stopped our clock and made a mental note to call a repairman, which I never did. That clock has been as still and as silent as a statue for nearly two years now.

And then, this summer, as we do every summer, my family and I traveled to Bardstown, Kentucky, to see The Stephen Foster Story (www.stephenfoster.com), a musical about Stephen Foster’s life and music. (For those who don’t know, Stephen Foster was the first famous American composer, and the only composer to have written two state songs: “My Old Kentucky Home”, the song of Kentucky, and “Way Down Upon the Swanee River”, the song of Florida.)

Since my mother played the role of Jeanie, Stephen’s love interest, in The Stephen Foster Story when I was three years old, this show formed some of my first memories. Stephen Foster’s music became the first distinct music of my memory. The devil in the show became my first distinct fear – I can still remember getting squirmy and wanting to hide under my chair whenever the devil took the stage – and I can still feel my father’s warm hand on me, trying to settle me. I can still remember the scratchy feel of my mother’s last costume (the pale-pink dress with tiers of lace ruffles) brushing up against my face, as she tried to hold onto me with one hand, and sign autographs with other, after the show, on those warm summer nights. (On the left is an old newspaper clipping of my mother as Jeanie.)

So going back to see this show now is like going back home. I am overwhelmed by nearly identical sights, sounds, and smells of my childhood, my family, my mother, and my motherland, so that when the cast finally sings “My Old Kentucky Home”, with My Old Kentucky Home lit up in the background, I begin to weep like a baby.


This year, Laurel happened to look over at me as I was wiping my eyes, during “My Old Kentucky Home”. She said, “Ummmmm…Mama…are you okay?” (I think it’s fair to say that she was more than a little concerned.)

When we were back in the car, I tried to explain the deep feeling of home that washes over me whenever we come back to this place, but Laurel didn’t really understand – she tried, and I could tell that she really wanted to.

And then, this week, I remembered our clock. I wound it, gave the pendulum a little nudge, and when it rang out in song, once again, Laurel froze. She looked as though she might cry. “That!” I said, pointing at her. “That’s it! Right there! That’s the feeling of home!” Laurel nodded her understanding.

I’m letting our clock run now. And although it’s on my list to call a repairman this week, whether that clock is ever repaired or not, I will continue to let it run, because it announces something far more important than time; it announces that we are home.

And even though we’ve started our clock, I encourage you to stop yours. Stop your clock and take the time to go back home this summer, in whatever way you can, whether that means visiting with your folks for a few days, or going fishing for a few hours, or taking only a few minutes, to eat raspberries warmed by the sun right off the bush, or to stand in a horse barn breathing in the mixed scent of horses and tobacco curing from the rafters. Whatever home means to you, take the time to go there this summer. It’s worth it. There’s no place like home.

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