Bob, the Clock Man: “Been there, Done that, Have the T-Shirt”

Meet Bob: the Irish story teller, master clock repairman, school-bus-driver, and Loyola graduate with a wife named Kathy and two pugs named “Oliver”, and “Pugsy Malone”. As a young man, he served time in the U.S. Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He retired sometime after and worked as a software developer (before most people knew what the word software even meant.)

I spent one hour with Bob while he fixed the grandfather clock in the exposed walkway that connects our kitchen to our family room. It was a strangely fascinating experience to watch him repair the chimes and replace the face. He showed me how to select one of four chime settings: Whittington, St. Michaels, Westminster, or Silent. He taught me how to align the moon setting and explained that each chime indicated a different slice of time. It’s incredible how little I knew about something so ordinary, something I walked past every single day of my life. I hadn’t even noticed the chimes didn’t work. But once they were fixed, I was happy to have them back. Bob introduced me to the convenient elegance of time telling by way of sound; one chime meaning quarter after the hour, two meaning half after, three meaning quarter till, and four chimes on the hour, followed by one strike per hour in the day.

Anytime someone comes to our house to make a repair, I introduce them to my imposing border collie, Eddie, and then offer them coffee. So far, Bob is the only one to let me make him a cup of coffee. He chose a Hazelnut flavored, medium roast mixed with regular decaf, black. We talked while he repaired and re-installed the delicate parts of the clock.I learned more about Bob in one hour than I have learned about most people I’ve known my whole life. Perhaps that’s because his experiences are so interesting; he sees things as they are, and tells them that way too.

Bob is probably ten years too young to be my grandfather, but ten years older than my actual father. The Irish story teller shared bits of his life with me more for the sake of sharing than to make an impression. His presence was subtle but substantial and he ended each story with the same smiling expression and shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, “everything occurs exactly as it should in the end.” I never met my grandfathers, they all died young, and I have a great deal of respect for the most important man in my life, my own father; I am captivated by the grandfatherly  figure in society, the patriarch that shares for the sake of sharing. It is not a harsh man whose presence makes a serious impression in my mind, but that of a gentle, fateful, and definitive Irish storyteller who came to repair the sound of time in my house, and my mind.

Charles Dickens said, “Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and in full vigor. With such people the gray head is but the impression of the old fellow’s hand in giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life.

Bob was a production manager for an evolving company that taught him the value of understanding his employees and the services they provide. He also learned the value of a sound financial investment– at a 100% increase in 6000 shares of invested stock in the company he managed! Bob has a collective range of expertise that spans from industry to industry, and the personality to prove it.

He enjoys learning new things, isn’t afraid to change or try something different, and engages in meaningful conversation with strangers. He said, “I never want to end up unfulfilled and out of time.” There’s an undeniable charm about someone who is passionate about….anything. He is passionate about everything. He told me that he stopped working for a successful production company when they offered to promote him to a higher paying position in Texas. When I asked why he didn’t take the job, he said, “because I’m not a Cowboys fan.” He is, however, a Baltimore Ravens fan. As a young man, he acquired a football from the 1958 NFL Championship game when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in what is often referred to as “the best game ever”. On December 28th,1958 the Colts played the Giants for the championship; the 4th quarter ended with a 17-17 tie; that was when the concept of “overtime” was first introduced to the NFL. Johnny Unitas handed off to Alan Ameche who dove across the goal line to give the Colts a 23-17 win. That day made history, and turned the game of football into one of the most popular spectator sports in the nation.

He may have a zeal for Baltimore football, but Bob didn’t come off like the type of guy who would go out and purchase a piece of legendary football memorabilia. He characterized himself as being an all or nothing kinda guy, all black or all white. He said that he wished he could see more of the “gray areas” in life. To me, he seemed capable of not only seeing, but also appreciating, all of the colors in life. He fixed our clock with the mechanical precision of a brain surgeon; he served in the navy, and he’s a registered republican. However, his company was born from his love of clock collecting; he dislikes right-wing conservatives and emphasizes the importance of political compromise. He doesn’t believe in the death penalty but he “totally wouldn’t mind throwing all the murderers, rapists, or child molesters in a Turkish prison for the rest of their lives.” He is practical and passionate, a sentimental mechanic, a trained military veteran and an avid animal lover.  He calls his pugs “my two little psychologists,” and later went on to say, “no matter what I’ve got going on in my life, coming home to the love and kisses of my dogs will make all my problems disappear.” He is a man who introduces himself to the students on his school bus on the first day of school by saying, “This is not a democracy. It is a monarch. However, you will respect me because I respect you and care for you deeply.” He drives the students to school and back everyday, and then attends their sporting events and concerts.

I wasn’t surprised when Bob finally told me how he inherited that championship football. He said that he was playing catch with his brother in the front yard, many years ago, after his time in the Navy. The woman who lived next door called out to them from her front porch. She said, “I see that your football is a little worn out and tattered. I think I have an extra one around here you can have.” She reached in through her front door and turned to toss him the ball. I suppose she didn’t have the best arm because he said he had to dive to catch it before it hit the grass. He jumped out, arms extended and caught it, two feet off the ground. His brother called out, “here, give it a throw,” and as he lifted the ball towards his ear to throw it, he noticed from the corner of his eye that it was covered in scribbled handwriting. He realized immediately that it was no ordinary football; it was that game winning ball from the 1958 championship and it was also signed by the entire Baltimore Colts football team, including Johnny Unitas. Needless to say, he never did make that pass to his brother.

I couldn’t imagine where this lady got such a valuable piece of football memorabilia and why she gave it away to some one she barely knew. o=Bob says he wishes he could see the “gray” in life more clearly, but I think he isn’t observing himself in the right light. He recognized the significance of the ball, sure. But more importantly, while I bombarded him with questions about the lady and the ball and how, what, where, when, why…he lifted his hands, and then lowered them slowly, as if to unwind my brain the same way he would one of his clocks. And then he said, “she knew exactly where the ball came from and what it was worth. She had a son who worked for the Baltimore Colts franchise. He was successful in his career and received the ball as a gift from the team. Years later, he died of Leukemia.” His mother kept the ball until that moment when she passed it along to Bob, explaining that she thought her son would want him to have it.

Bob came to fix our clock. And he did a damn good job. He also happened to appreciate my hospitality, and open up his life to tell me about a unique spectrum of experiences in a way that only a story teller from Ireland could. But it wasn’t his wisdom or experience, his faith in love and his love for animals, his cool story about a spectacular football, or even his passion for life and contagiously positive attitude that compelled me to write about the man who repaired our clock. It was the fact that he was more interested in sharing and less interested in impressing. He possessed humility and confidence, sense and sensibility, satisfaction and diligence. He embraced challenge and recognized the value of passion. He was truly passionate because he understood that passion isn’t about what we have or what we get. It is about what we do with what we have and how we got it in the first place.

Before he left he told me that the reason Johnny Unitas is such an inspiration is because he isn’t actually built like a typical quarter back; he was not born with remarkable talent in athleticism. He said that it wasn’t given to him; he earned it. He answered the question I’ve been asking myself for so many years now. Can I really do this? Whatever “it” is… when does impossibility end and possibility begin? Once you start accepting the worst in everyone else and stop accepting the worst in yourself. Once you take notice of the details, the small signs that fate leaves behind. Now our clock chimes every quarter of an hour and strikes on each hour of the day, like a constant reminder that each moment represents a choice. The choices are simple: appreciate or take for granted, do or do not, take notice or ignore, change or remain, obtain or lose, allow your choices to be made, or chose to have a choice, and a cup of coffee along the way.

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