Grandpa and His Irish Walnut Clock

The grandfather clock sat silently in the corner of the family room. Its hands stopped at 9:11 am.

It was as if my grandfather’s ghost lived in that clock, himself quiet and alert but never intruding.

Grandpa brought the clock with him from County Leitrim in Ireland on the boat weighed down to its waterline.

He had to pay a lot to get it over the ocean, twice as much as his own passage and the passage of his wife Bridget and their ten children.

Grandpa used to say that he was a trader in Ireland. It took me a long time to know what he meant. He smuggled cattle and whiskey across the border between the north and the south of Ireland. He made a lot of money.

On day Jimmy McGee confessed he could not pay up “I’ve got me that old grandfather clock. Works good. Want it?” Grandpa had wanted that walnut clock since he was a boy and his ma worked in the McGee big house, cooking and cleaning for shillings a year.

“If that’s all ye can offer me, then I’m stuck,” said Grandpa. He didn’t want old Jimmy to know how much he wanted the clock. Grandma had a fit when he pulled up in the yard with the clock in the trailer behind the tractor that Grandpa used instead of a car.

“What ye be stark raving mad to bring that thing into the house? Where’s the quid that old cheat owes us?” She yelled.

Grandpa got my dad and my two uncles to help him unload it. There it sat for years on flagstones in the entryway of their snug farm cottage, keeping perfect time. Grandpa would sit in front on the clock every night after tea.

My dad said he thought grandpa used to talk to the clock. His lips would move as he looked at the big round face. When anyone got close, grandpa’s lips stopped moving.

One day, he got wind that the revenue agents were after him to get the tax money for his trades. He sat in front of the clock for three nights. Then he spoke.

“We got to go, Bridget,” he said. “It’s not safe for us here.” Bridget didn’t want to go, but the children did. She gave in, finally too sad to object when Grandpa loaded the walnut grandfather clock onto the truck for the drive to the port of Sligo Town. He bought passage on a steamer going to Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  The children and the wives of the adult children, made the trip with him and Grandma.

Grandpa had enough money from his trades to buy a diary farm and cattle outside of Boston. He, Grandma, and his adult children and set up a milk business that expanded into ice cream and cheese. They got rich.

Every night Grandpa sat in front of the clock, lips moving, until he thought someone noticed. 

On a fine sunny day in September, Grandpa took the train to New York to talk to business people about building another cheese plant. Right on time, Grandpa arrived at the World Trade Towers.

It was as if the old grandfather clock knew. It stopped at 9:11 am on the morning of September 11, 2001.