Syracuse, NY 13210
Volume 3, 2003
Grandma Belle's Cuckoo Clock
Seems like eons ago.
Sunday drives, stopping for ice cream cones or strawberry sundaes, and the weekly Sunday dinner at Grandma Belle’s. Always at two o’clock! Chicken and gravy like you never tasted. Mounds of mashed potatoes whipped to perfection that always spilled over the green serving bowl with the embossed gold ring at the top that she always used. It was the biggest bowl she had to fit the five pounds of potatoes she cooked. And don’t forget the vegetable. Might have been fresh corn from her garden or pickled beets from last year’s crop. But the vegetable never took second billing.
Always anticipated what kind of pie she had baked the day before. Would it be apple or blueberry this week? I hoped it would be strawberry-rhubarb, or minced but those are holiday pies. Those were my favorites and of course pie isn’t pie with out vanilla ice cream or apple pie with cheddar cheese on top. I used to think that was an ungodly combination until I tried it. And we always made sure there was enough room for these delectable sweets.
After the meal, everyone helped put the food away, (what was left), wash the dishes and tidy up the kitchen. There wasn’t much room in the tiny trailer she lived in for four adults and four lively children if things weren’t tidy and put back in their places. Along with the Sunday tradition, were playing cards. Playing cards! And the children could play with the adults! We learned Rummy, Canasta, Sevens and Pinochle. Sevens was her favorite and once in awhile she would let my Dad or I win.
She lived in a trailer on land that my uncle owned. Her second husband, Larry, was a good man to Grandma Belle. Never got used to calling him, “Grandpa,” though. Just Larry. Big thick mustache, curled at the ends. Retired from the Railroad. Always wore his railroad hat. Never went anywhere unless it was to the hardware store for more pieces to add to his train set that was located in the tiniest bedroom of the trailer. In this tiny room, was a whole city with mountains in the background, streams and bridges that the train could travel over and a railroad station for passengers to board. The trains even had whistles when crossing the intersections. No one could ever touch anything in this room and it was always locked when he wasn’t around.
Summer vacations were the greatest for me because Grandma Belle watched me most of the time. Both my parents worked, and my older sisters either worked or had better things to do. Adjacent to the land my Uncle Cutie owned, was a cow farm. The Smith’s owned it and they had at least thirty cows. I would go in the morning and watch them be milked. Then my cousins and I would jump off the hay wagon they had into the loose hay that was spread out for the cows and the horses. That’s when I found out I was extremely allergic to hay. Grandma took me inside and gave me a shower and a cup of tea. She always knew what was best.
Sometimes I would stay over for the whole week. We would tend to her garden, pick wild berries to make jam and of course play cards forever. She had an Ouija board that she would take out from under her couch and believed in what the spirits told her of her horoscope that day. She let me try it and I couldn’t believe the pull the spirits had on my hands. They spelled out my first name and then after a few moments, told me that my future would be filled with love and joy. It was the only time I used the board. I didn’t really know what a spirit was and I didn’t like the feeling of my hands floating across the board without me being in control.
Evenings were the best with her. After supper, we would plan what we would be doing the next day, shower and get ready for bed. But before too much more time fleeted by, I needed to do the daily chore that I was assigned, and only I was assigned, whenever I was there. She had a cuckoo clock; one she had brought with her from Switzerland many years ago when she came to the United States. Made of pure wood with a little wooden cuckoo that would come out every thirty minutes to tell you he was alive. Little tiny Swiss dancers swirling on a rotating dance floor above Tweety’s head as he sang his song. My job was to reset the chains so that the bird would be able to sing the next day. I was reminded never pull the chains up so tight to the birdhouse for he might not be able to sing tomorrow. I was always ever so careful. Pulling the chains up built patience for me. One of the many lessons you learn in life when you have a great teacher. Once in awhile, I had to wake my grandmother and ask her to stop the bird from singing during the night. I loved that clock but sharing the living room with it was a bit too much when you are tired and he is not.
Grandma Belle died at the young age of 94 of kidney failure, contributing her longevity to drinking pickle juice and never inhaling on the daily cigarette she had. She outlived five of her seven children and kept up her own house and garden alone for over thirty years. The times with her will always be in my heart for she and her faithful cuckoo clock filled our world with love and music.
I have grandchildren of my own now. The lessons I teach them are of patience and love. The times we’re all together are precious. We play cards and board games and have Sunday dinners. We tend to my garden, pick berries and walk the dogs. One thing is missing though. My own cuckoo clock.