As the oldest son of a mother raising four young children by herself on a waitress’ salary, it was not unusual for us to sit around and wish for things we’d like to have. The Salvation Army provided Christmas, the government provided food stamps and the church provided clothing. We had what we needed, but the “wants” were little more than elusive dreams.
On one particular evening, my mother, my sister, my two younger brothers and I were sitting on the front porch playing our “I wish I had a …” game. When it came Mother’s turn, with her arms crossed and her chin resting in her right hand, she reflectively shared, “I’ve always thought I’d like to have a grandfather clock.”
There was something about her wish that touched me that day. As she spoke, I could see the truth of it in her eyes. I decided right then and there that, one day, my mother would have her grandfather clock. My wish became to make her wish come true.
But in the summer of 1974, the most a 13-year-old boy could do to make money was pretty well resigned to one of two things.
He could scavenge for “pop” bottles and redeem them at the local grocer for five cents each. Back then, it was a very common practice for drivers to throw empty soda bottles out the car window and into the ditch. Often, carpenters and construction workers would leave them lying around the worksite, making them easy pickings for a lad.
My 20-inch green bicycle had newspaper baskets connected to the rear axle and the banana seat. They were just perfect for holding lots of those glass nickels. Off I’d go, down one side of the main roads, then back up the other, searching the grassy edges for them. And all the while, stopping wherever I thought someone might dispose of an empty in a trash can…the barber shop, the auto parts store, the lumber yard.
It took some time to make a dollar, but then, there wasn’t much else to do on a hot summer day.
Another revenue producer was pushing a lawn mower. I had a couple of widows that were willing to shell out $2.50 for an hour’s worth of work. Off I’d go, pulling the lawnmower with one hand and steering the bike with the other. The key was to fill up the mower’s gas tank at home and try to get the entire yard cut before running out of fuel.
With no real way to earn money, the thought of momma’s clock faded with the passing summer and by the fall, it was a distant memory.
Toward the end of the next school year, the mayor of our city mentioned a 10-week summer work program for teens of low-income families. We went to church together, so he was aware of my family’s financial status. He said the job was 32 hours a week, Mon.-Thur. and paid $100 a week.
He said most of the kids in the program would be cleaning ditches with a sling blade, but there was one open slot for a janitor’s assistant in City Hall. I could have my choice…chop weeds in ditches in 90+-degree heat or work in an air-conditioned office building downtown. I chose the latter.
During my first week working at City Hall, I happened to notice an S&H Green Stamp redemption store on the next block. For my birthday one year, my mother had traded in green stamps for a fishing rod, so I knew they had some good stuff for boys. Having nothing to do for an hour, I mosied over to see what else they might carry…perhaps a pocketknife or football. I really had no idea what to expect.
As I approached the building, I could see through the large plate glass window…a grandfather clock!
The memory of Mother’s wish from last summer instantly flooded my mind.
I entered the store and focused all my attention on the clock. I had never seen one in person. It towered over my small frame and watching the pendulum swing back and forth mesmerized me. It even had a little light under the clock section to light up a small knick-knack shelf at the base of the clock.
All my thoughts centered around how happy Momma would be if she got this on her birthday.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the stamp store was also a retail store. I don’t remember how many books of stamps it took to get the grandfather clock, but the cash price tag read $300!
Mother’s birthday would be in September, only 12 weeks away. With a 10-week work program just starting, I knew I wanted to get this clock!
I told the lady that I’d like to buy it and asked if I could pay for it a little at a time. We agreed that I could pay $30 a week and she would hold it for me. This left $20 a week for me to spend and $50 a week toward the family budget.
Every Friday, I’d eagerly cash my check at the bank, run over to the stamp store and faithfully make my weekly payment. After 10 weeks, the program ended and I was the proud owner of a brand-new grandfather clock.
Roy Coble was the city clerk at City Hall and lived just down the street from me. He agreed to use his truck to help me transport the clock home. What I didn’t know until I went to the stamp store to pick it up was that it was a kit that had to be put together. We loaded up the boxes and headed home.
I spent the next two nights, carefully following the directions for putting the clock together. So Mother wouldn’t find her gift early, I locked my bedroom door and worked quietly. That almost didn’t work.
It seems I was too quiet. I was almost finished when Mother knocked on the door and asked what I was doing. I had been smart enough to think in advance that I would hide it behind the bedroom door until her birthday. So, that’s where I put it together…close to the wall behind the door.
She opened the door and peeked in. “What are you doing with that screwdriver, son?”
“Oh, nothing,” I lied. “I’m tighening a loose screw on the dresser handle. It keeps coming off.”
To this day, I don’t know how she didn’t see the clock. It was taller than the door and blocked it from opening all the way. But, miraculously, she didn’t find it. Whew!
On her birthday, I moved the clock to the living room and set it where I thought she might want it. When she came home from work that night, her gift was waiting. “Happy Birthday, Momma!”
Mother was very proud of her grandfather clock and showed it to all who visited our home. By making her wish come true, my wish had been fulfilled too.
Forty years have passed and Mother no longer has the clock. It’s been replaced.
Looking back, this clock was one of those inexpensive factory items made from particle-board. And, it wasn’t fancy or all dressed out in ornate decorations like the expensive ones. The wood pattern was actually dark walnut paper veneer, the clock face was brass-plated and the “tick-tock” sound came from a AA battery quartz movement.
Still, it was precious to Momma. She had finally gotten her wish…a grandfather clock.