On July 12 circa 1930, G. C. Lovejoy climbed the gangway to board the SS Hm Banker of the American Merchant lines. G. C. was traveling from London to New York. I don’t know if G. C. carried the suitcase or paid a porter to do it. I don’t know if G. C. stayed in first class or steerage. I don’t know if G. C. dined well or was seasick the whole way. I don’t know if G. C. looked forward to the voyage or regretted it bitterly. I don’t know if G. C. was tall or short, happy or sad, a man or a woman.
So many years later, G. C.’s suitcase found itself in my dad’s possession and in November of 2010, became the protector and resting place of two antique clocks, lovingly laid in a nest of wadded newspapers. There they slept, until G.C.’s suitcase arrived here in Hawaii two days ago. It was minus its handle but otherwise intact, its brass latches still functioning, its seersucker lining unassuming, smelling of years gone past, hopes and dreams packed and unpacked and packed again.
The newspapers mostly carried crossword puzzles and obituaries, or maybe that’s just what caught my eye. In tribute to G. C., I ironed the crosswords back to life. The obituaries were more of a lost cause.
And now the clocks sit on our Japanese cherry wood tea cupboard, only a quarter century old and made by prison inmates rather than traditional artisans, but lovely all the same.
The clocks flank Markio, a Heian Period kimekomi doll. (What’s a kimekomi doll?) Mariko has a serene expression, as if lulled by the ticking, pleased for the company, unfazed by the hourly bong-bong-bong, as confident in her own beauty as the clocks in their control of time.
Above all this is a tapestry from a temple in Kyoto and to the left, another I found in a junk shop. Inside the cupboard are a painted case from Turkey, a carved Anubis and coffee mugs from Egypt, a Buddha-shaped incense burner, Meditation Cat and a couple of pink unicorns.
I put the clocks on top of the cupboard to keep them safe from the cats, thinking the placement was temporary. But the longer they sit there, the more they belong, their almost Gothic look somehow bringing everything together, bringing out the best of the whole rather than the oddity of the details.
Those clocks were a part of my childhood, their ticking perfectly in harmony with the creaks and pops of the old farmhouse we lived in. The slight smell the clocks give off is the smell of time, no less incongruous with the smells of Hawaii than I am.
The clocks need to be wound. That is the price we pay for the illusion of controlling time. But time is the one immutable constant, the one thing that can neither be given nor taken away. It can only be lived. All of us, our loves and hates, our joys and sorrows and disappointments, are only pieces of time, moments to be savored or forgotten, and only to be lived once. They are no more than what we make of them.