Timepieces

Generations of Memories Through a Grandfather Clock

The old grandfather clock
The old grandfather clock

Updated August 01st, 2018

Grandfather clock

The grandfather clock in our house has been a source of both love and hate. It is a family heirloom passed down through several generations and no one has had the heart to get rid of it. When my father inherited it from his father, it was the talk around the dinner table for weeks. We were all a little worn for the conversation, but we tolerated my father's stories because they seemed to be the joy of his life.

How My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Got the Clock

The first story my father always launches into is the one about how the longcase clock initially came into our family. My great-great-great grandfather Arlen, who was born in the 1870s, worked for a clockmaker, Mr. Gillenwater. He had started in the shop as an apprentice when he was only 12 years old. Mr. Gillenwater had a strong reputation all over the region as a master of the pendulum clock.

When a young woman from the wealthiest family in town decided she was going to get married, her father commissioned Mr. Gillenwater to create a floor clock for the couple as a wedding gift. His instructions were specific: he wanted the family name, Housen, carved somewhere on the base of the clock and he wanted the clock to have hands and no pendulum.

Mr. Gillenwater made the wooden base of the clock the same way and had my grandfather Arlen do all the wood cutting and construction for the base. It was the first time Grandaddy Arlen was allowed to do work without direct supervision. He exceeded Mr. Gillenwater's expectations. After staining the clock and using wood tools to etch the family name in the wood, it was time to finish the construction.

While Mr. Gillenwater and Granddaddy Arlen were adding the face and hands, Mr. Housen came to the shop. He would no longer be needing the grandfather clock he had commissioned. The young man who was going to marry his daughter had changed his mind and chosen a different bride. His daughter was distraught and wanted nothing to do with the tall-case clock.

Rather than trying to sell the clock, Mr. Gillenwater decided to gift the clock to my grandfather. He knew this first clock project was meaningful for Granddaddy Arlen, and wanted him to have a tangible motivation to keep honing his skills as a clockmaker.

The Stints Until My Grandfather's House

The clock went through another stint with my great-great grandfather with little to no incident. By that, I mean nothing was changed. He and my great-great-grandmother kept the clock in pristine condition, getting it cleaned and repaired regularly so that they could preserve it. In fact, they would not let any of their children anywhere near it.


My great-grandfather took great care of the grandfather clock as well. In fact, he gave the clock its first upgrades. He had a wild sense of humor and decided to change the original hands on the clock. The original long metal arms still stayed, but he added a welded piece that literally looked like a pair of hands to point to the Roman numerals on the face of the close. Our family has laughed about this many times.

The clock was starting to show signs of wear by the time it reached my grandfather's house. The wood was chipped in a few places, and the clock seemed to have lost its luster. There was a crack in the face created when my brother and I decided to play ball in the house. My grandfather got to work immediately making the repairs. It seemed like it was a cardinal sin to ignore the needs of the grandfather clock.

When he did the repairs, he had a lightly smoky glass face put on the clock. As the shop he entrusted with this task was refurbishing the wood, they also noticed the name Housen was still engraved there. They asked my grandfather if he wanted that sanded off, but he did not. Instead, he instructed the technicians to preserve the original Housen engraving and had our family name etched on the opposite side of the base.

Bringing the Grandfather Clock Home

My mother was never attached to our family clock and made it no secret that they thought it was too clunky for her decor. In fact, she purchased a grandmother clock that sat across from the family clock in her formal living room. My grandfather never said anything about that purchase, but his silence implied that he did not like it.


Their living room itself was a place that was off limits for me and my brother. The couch and chairs all had a very heavy plastic and only special guests were allowed to go in that room. One time when we broke the face of the clock, we got in more for going into the room than we did for breaking the clock.

My father had not kept the grandfather clock under such tight restrictions. While he warned us not to touch it or break it, he left it in our family room. He told my mother once that he did this so he could always tell immediately if something was out of place. If the clock were in a shut-off room, it might take months for him to notice anything wrong.

I inherited the grandfather clock when my father died. My mother could not stand to have the reminder in her house each day that her husband was gone. She asked me to come and take the clock immediately after my father's funeral, but I just could not bring myself to do it.

On one hand, I was very aware that I was inheriting something very valuable and that it would be my responsibility to protect it until my children could take it. This is a lot of pressure on a single person. I finally picked the clock up from my mom's after I had settled in my heart that my father, his father, his father's father and so on would be proud of me. I was the new keeper of the clock and confident that I would be able to keep my family legacy alive.