He clearly remembered that October day of nearly thirty years ago when he first saw the clock. It sat in the window of a cut-rate jewelry store on a street whose shops drew the boundary of the downtown shopping district.
He was sixteen years old, and for the first time during the Christmases of his young life, he was working. The job was not much, part time after school and Saturday mornings. His duties included delivering heavy reams of stationery to various business offices and keeping the stock room in some semblance of order. For his efforts he was paid one dollar per hour which translated into nine or ten dollars and some loose change which was given to him in a small, brown envelope each Friday afternoon.
Surely it was not a lot, but in the days of five cent student fares on the local public transportation system and fifty cent movie admissions, it served its purpose.
It was nearly Christmas, now, and he had been admiring the clock for more than two months. It would be the first time that he could afford a decent gift for his parents from the money he had saved, but it had not been easy.
Each day he walked through the shopping district, passing stores which, by now, have become but shadowy ghosts in the memories of those still here to remember. The shops sold clothing, uniforms, shoes, and tobacco products. And one, the special store which held the clock, sold cut-rate jewelry.
It was gold in color, stood about a foot tall, and was embedded with red and white stones which, in his young mind, were genuine rubies and diamonds. It was the pendulum, though, that had convinced him that this was a special clock. Back and forth it swung, back and forth in a magical, hypnotic manner.
A small, white price tag dangled loosely from a part of the clock. The movement of the pendulum, though, had turned it, and looking through the window from the street, the price could not be seen. Being pure gold, and he was sure that it was, and studded with what he knew for certain were precious diamonds and rubies, it had to be expensive, perhaps too expensive. The boy entered the store, mesmerized as the clerk reached into the display of watches, rings, and clocks to turn the tag.
“Fifteen ninety five, son.”
He was right. It was expensive.
If he could save two dollars each week until Christmas, he could buy the clock, but putting aside two dollars per week out of the nine or ten he earned would be a difficult, if not impossible, chore. Remembering the holidays to come, days on which he would not be working, and reminding himself that he was not asked to work every Saturday, brought to him the realization that the nine or ten dollars per week may actually be only five or six for those abbreviated periods.
“Could you hold the clock for me? I’ll pay you something each week from now until Christmas.”
“Sorry son. This is strictly a cash and carry business. If I hold it for you, and you change your mind or cannot save enough money, I’ll be the loser here.”
Each day he came to the store to see if the clock had been sold. The mere thought of that happening brought great discomfort to him. The possibility of losing the clock to somebody else haunted his thoughts.
“Why,” he wondered, “would something as beautiful as this clock not be sold?”
The idea of the cut-rate jeweler having a dozen or more identical clocks in stock never really entered the boy’s mind. To him, the clock in the window was the only one of its kind, and it is what he wanted to give to his parents on Christmas Day.
To the boy, time began to march more quickly toward Christmas, and the chill of early winter could be felt in the air. Coins were beginning to accumulate until they could be exchanged for bills, and still the clock held its place in the window with the magical movement of its pendulum. Beyond its obvious beauty, the boy recognized in this clock its accuracy. From day to day it kept perfect time.
When the coins and bills finally added to fifteen dollars and ninety five cents, something the boy had long feared that would not happen, there were but two days remaining before Christmas Day. He watched eagerly as the clerk reached into the window to remove the prized timepiece. From there it was neatly nestled into a long, gray, tissue lined box.
“Gift wrap it for you, son?”
“Sure, sure!” After all, it was to be a gift, was it not? And it was the first real gift he had ever bought. Of course it should be wrapped.
The boy could now only envision the joy that would certainly find its way to his parents’ smiles as they untied the ribbon, removed the wrapping paper, and opened the box. For him, Christmas now could not come soon enough.
He was not prepared for the disappointment that he experienced when the anticipated elation was not forthcoming. For two months he had worked hard to save enough money to buy the clock. He had fretted over the possibility of the clock being sold to somebody else, and now it seemed that his parents did not like his gift!
“How much did you pay for this?”, his father asked. The boy thought that this was not a question that was asked when a gift was given. His disappointment was deep.
“That’s not important,” he answered. “It is paid for, and it is yours. Don’t you like it?”
The boy battled the swelling in his throat. He hoped that the tears welling in his eyes could not be seen.
“It’s not that we don’t like it. In fact it is very beautiful, but we feel that it may have cost you much more than you could afford to spend. Why don’t you return it and perhaps buy something a bit less expensive.”
“I’m not taking it back. I don’t want the money, and if you don’t want the clock, you take it back.”
He was surprised at what he had said, but even more surprised at the manner in which he had said it. He had never spoken to his parents like this before.
Even the sweet scent of a freshly cut Christmas tree could not relay the spirit of the day to him in that moment. He left the room quickly, leaving behind words he did not hear.
“Whatever he paid for this was too much. Look at it. It’s no more than a piece of junk.”
“Yes, I know that, and you know that, but the boy doesn’t. For years we have been giving what we can afford to give, and we’ve learned to do that, but it seems that we have not learned how to receive.”
“You’re right. I think we have hurt him.”
The clock was removed from its cardboard container and placed atop the black and white television set. It was plugged into the socket behind the console, and the hands were properly set.
The boy was called back into the room. There was an apology and an explanation, both of which he graciously accepted. This was the finest gift that they had received this Christmas, they told him, and their initial concern was with the money he had spent. Of course they were going to keep the clock. It was a beautiful gift.
The boys watched the pendulum swinging back and forth as the clock settled into its new found splendor atop the old television set. They were his parents. They said it was their favorite gift, did they not. They had no reason to lie to him.
The boy smiled now, noticing immediately how much more majestic the clock appeared to be in its new place.
This story first appeared in the 1985 Christmas issue of the Charlestown Patriot. In it I was recalling the events of Christmas time, 1957. For many, many years that clock sat atop a television set in my parent’s parlor with its pendulum swinging. One day, quite by accident, the clock was broken as it fell to the floor. It was taken to a jewelry store to be fixed, but we were told that it was not worth fixing. Although my parents are no longer with us, and the clock no longer works, it still, some fifty three years later, sits atop a television in a third floor apartment on Elm Street.
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