The World of Grandpa Don


The Grandfather Clock During the summer of 2004 St Julie parish sponsored a series of sessions on "Writing your Memoirs". This after I had already written 15 chapters of mine. After the first session Jane Barron gave us a homework assignment to write about an object. This is my story using her example as presented the previous week.

Don Plefka

As I descend the stairs each morning the stately grandfather clock greets me with the assurance that I am on schedule for the normal routine of the day. Usually this is a casual and almost subconscious observation, part of the acquired habit. 

At other times, as I sit quietly reading or just reflecting, I become aware of it as it chimes the quarter hour in its slow deliberate manner. Once in a while I take a look at the dial that indicates the phases of the moon although I very seldom check to see if it needs to be adjusted to match the actual event. 

The Grandfather clock is more than a timepiece. It is an elegant piece of furniture with its dark and highly polished wood finish, decorative curved crown, and rich burl accents. The beveled glass of its door and the polished brass pendulum and weights add to the character of this wonderful clock. 

I call it wonderful because, in addition to its utilitarian attributes and pleasing appearance, it tells stories, well, … at least to me. 

It reminds me of Dick and Jan, for it was these old friends who caused us to have the clock. Arriving at their home one day in 1982 for dinner and cards, Dick proudly introduced us to the clock he had recently built. I was impressed with his work and determined to build one too. Anne and I went to the Chicago Clock Company display room at Rout 83 and North Avenue and after much searching, purchased a kit. It would be larger and more elegant than our friend’s because … anything Dick could do, I could do better. That was not true because Dick was always working with wood, crafting elegant rocking chairs, and other works of art. But the challenge was to be met. 

I remember the unpacking of the wood, all cut to size but in need of final sanding, and the sheaf of instructions that was intimidating to say the least. “What had I gotten myself into?” I remember sorting it all out and gathering the needed tools. Then there were weeks of hand sanding each piece, assembling by gluing and clamping with the addition of a few hidden nails and in some cases screws. Assembly of the components was done in the evening and left to dry overnight. The next evening another assembly was added to the project. It was done slowly and with meticulous care. Perfection was the watchword. 

Then came the time to apply the finish. This was the part I feared the most and with which I was the least competent. This is where Anne became my adviser and the project supervisor. The instructions warned of the fact that the stain would be absorbed by the burl at a faster rate than the rest of the wood and so great care was needed. The stain was applied with a nylon stocking and after an appropriate amount of time (Anne told me when) it was wiped and allowed to dry. Then it was sanded and another application made. If it was too light, do it again. If it was too dark … disaster! Anne let me know when it was just right. And so, the clock still reminds me that Anne was there to guide me, not just with this project but also with life. Always apply just enough, not too much and everything will turn out fine. 

The next step was the final assembly when the heavy brass movement was put in place, the face positioned and the hands installed. The glass was installed and the doors hung. The chime rods were assembled, the weights hung and the pendulum suspended. The three weights were cranked to the top and finally the pendulum given the first push. I still remember the satisfaction of a project completed and pride in the results. It was perfect! 

The grandfather clock also brings memories of the planning of our new home. It was during the planning stage that its place was established in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. It would be a well-traveled area and visible from several places. The sound of the chimes would be heard through out the house and the clock would reside in a place of honor. The homebuilder was carefully instructed that no electrical outlet, thermostat or anything else could be on that wall so as to interfere with the placement of the clock. 

The grandfather clock was also an attraction for the grandchildren. If they were to visit on a Saturday, I would postpone the weekly winding until they arrived. When they were just old enough, a stool would be provided so they could reach the handle and wind the mechanism. If more than one were present they would take turns with each of the three weights to be wound. Grandma often arbitrated disputes over who should be first. There would be a great feeling of accomplishment when a stool was no longer necessary and an even greater celebration when they became tall enough to reach the key kept on top of the clock. 

The clock was as much of the grandchildren’s education as “Please and Thank You”. They learned that certain things were of value and needed to be treated with care. They also learned that with time they would be responsible (and tall) enough to wind the clock without grandpa’s help.

 Our three children have asked which would inherit the clock. At the time I said I would build two more to resolve the problem. That never happened and I am afraid that Anne is not here to arbitrate the matter. But, knowing my kids, I am sure the argument will be … “Oh, no, you should have it because …” 

 I am even more proud of my kids than I am of my clock. Can you imagine that? 

Grandpa Don Plefka


Authored by 
Don Plefka

Articles, Letters, Dreams and Such

The Grandfather Clock

The World of Grandpa Don 

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