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Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here -- The kitchen clock


My family lived for many years in Langhorne Borough, a pretty town then and still full of charm.

It was built around the crossing of two Indian paths and was first known to settlers as Four Lanes End. During the Revolution, the home of Joseph Richardson at the crossroads became a military hospital and soldiers’ graves are nearby. The lanes later became known as Maple and Bellevue avenues.

Our house, built in 1891, was on North Bellevue Avenue, near today’s Middletown Country Club. When we bought the house it needed work – there was no kitchen to speak of; plumbing and power were far outdated. But the house had good bones – the original chestnut molding and doors, large windows, some framed with stained glass, large rooms, an entrance hall, lots of light. The floor, however, was old, dry and splintering pine.

We had lived in the house a few years when my husband’s uncle, Thomas P. Carney, a building contractor, was renovating a school in Quakertown. Joe, my late husband, had worked in the family construction businesses from the time he was about 12 years old. When Tom offered Joe the flooring from the school’s gym he jumped at the offer – all he had to do was tear out the floor and take it away.

Joe was quite able to dismantle the beautiful maple flooring. He rented a truck to take to Quakertown and pulled up the floor planks. I was carrier-in-chief and a couple of our children – I think the oldest was 12 – helped with the carrying. We loaded the truck and carried the piles of maple strips to Langhorne. We stored the wood in the carriage house on an alley behind the house.

Over many months, Joe installed the flooring in our old house, giving us hardwood floors that shone along the long hallway, through the parlor, the living room, the dining room and into the kitchen. There was plenty of wood so the second floor, too, acquired lovely light colored maple floors, a kind of gymnasium look throughout the main part of the house.

We salvaged a few other things from the school, among them a couple of big Landis schoolroom clocks that were wired to the walls. Joe changed the works to battery power and it was easy to hand one clock in our kitchen. It hung there for almost 20 years, witnessing all of the laughter and tears that went on at that kitchen table. We took that clock with us from house to house as we moved.

The clock’s metal frame had turned black over its lifetime so a few years ago, I had it polished to its bright copper base. It was a real showpiece, I thought.

Around this new year, the clock started to slow down so I took it off the wall and installed a new battery. My daughter Kate hung it for me – I could take it down but not reach to put it back. But the clock was still losing time. I took it down again, tried another new battery and got my son Joe to hang it. But it was not well anchored to the wall.

One day from upstairs I heard a loud crash. The clock had fallen, glass all over the kitchen floor. The soft copper frame was bent.

I took the clock to a repair shop and was told it would take $400 to take out the dents and replace the glass. I didn’t leave the clock there.

My sons, and daughters too, like their father, are adept at reusing things and making them work. Son Joe offered to take the clock home to fix it. I gave it to him and thought I would never see the clock again but I misjudged him. On Valentine’s Day, he brought the clock back, dents hammered out, new glass he had ordered online, and new battery-operated works. And then, he hung the clock securely on the wall.

Now ...

Here is the reason for writing about the kitchen clock. On this page, Robert L. Leight, a former Quakertown School District administrator, teacher and school board member, mentions the renovation of the old Quakertown High School when it became an elementary school.

That was the school where we went to tear up its floor. That was the school that had the clocks, probably installed in 1929, when the school was built. I’ve moved from the house with the lovely floors but I still have the clock.

If I were to take it to Antiques Roadshow, I would probably end up in the booth where people tell their reject stories.

I would be chided for polishing the clock and taking away its black patina. The impeccable provenance would not be enough to redeem it.

But to me it’s priceless.