One hesitates to up and admit as much, but I had a hallucination last week. No, not religious, ghostly, drug-induced or crazy (so far as I know) — none of that. Here’s what happened.
We have an old western North Carolina hand-crafted grandfather clock made of pine that my parents found somewhere up in the hills for a song about 40 years ago and thought it would be perfect for a beach house. It’s very simple, stands about six feet tall, made of ancient pine boarding and primitive workings, and adorned with a rustic, hand-painted face. The numbers are golden like the wood and are applied with just enough imperfection to give it a human touch.
Full of character, the casing shows a little unevenness here and there, with rings that encircle and whorl around the randomly situated knot. Overall it’s a sturdy and pleasingly aged piece that has been a sentinel for reliable time keeping since the late 1800s. It needs to be wound daily, a task that requires the pulling of a chain inside the cabinet that hoists a single weight which drives both the timekeeping and striking mechanisms.
At the top of the hour, when the striking mechanism is engaged, all the works are set in motion — and all hell breaks loose. Everything seems to fit, start, sputter, spew, cling and clang as the hour rings out with a sense crankiness amidst a din of spinning gears and rustling chains. It’s fantastic!
Or at least such was the case until a few years ago, when a short move disrupted some of the workings, and the old fellow has sat silent ever since, permanently stuck at 1:30. I can’t find anyone to fix it on site, which happens to be distantly removed and not necessarily easily accessed.
Well, long story short, we had a handyman who happens to be a genius with mechanics doing some painting and minor repairs on the house. I asked him to inspect the works and see if he could figure out the problem(s) and fix it. So he took off the ornamental hood and messaged me a picture of the interior, and then it happened.
It was that smell — that musty, moldy bouquet of old wood, iron, brass, mildew, cobwebs and memories. The smell of that clock I’ve known for over 40 years. It was so vivid and real, and yet I thought I was dreaming. But I wasn’t, and after about five seconds it went away.
Very strange. It was like the clock was trying to say something, like “Fix me!” perhaps?
Our handyman couldn’t solve the puzzle, and our clock will remain silent until I can get it some help.
There’s no question that the mind can do strange things. I had a somewhat similar experience a few days later when a friend out of the blue sent me an original letter that my maternal grandfather had written to his (my friend’s) father concerning kicking off duck season in the fall of 1980. You’d have to have known my grandfather, but he’d write in a relaxed, folksy and amusing way uniquely his own and reflecting his own unique personality.
The letter was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect it, and when I opened the contents and started reading alone in my office, it happened again. He was there. I felt it, could almost smell it — You know how old gentlemen have that comfortable, well-worn fragrance about them? A mixture of wool, leather, cedar wood and experience? It was that type of thing. It lasted for a few moments and then stopped.
Maybe it’s just the holidays — or maybe I’ve got a serious case of JPN (just plain nuts.) Either way, both experiences were pretty cool.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.