By Wendy Murray
Circumstances change but the ever-present heartbeat of God does not.
The oddest thing happened to me when I was sitting under a dim light on the couch in a room of the rented house where I live temporarily. I was reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I hadn’t read it before. And so when I found myself living in this house, a rented furnished house that included dishes and books; and when I was reproaching myself for not reading enough; and when I saw Where the Red Fern Grows on the owner’s bookshelf; I decided to read it despite its being “juvenile fiction.” Juvenile or not, any novel of that stature ought to be read.
I was curled on the owner’s couch trying to assuage my guilt about not reading enough, and I was reading about the young narrator’s inconsolable desire for two hound dogs when I lifted my head to a sound so subtle and at the same time eviscerating that I had to stop.
I heard the ticking of my clock and hear it even still as I write these words. I hung the clock in my rented house — I don’t know how it ended up in the pile of accoutrements that I loaded into my car when I transferred a few of my things from a previous residence to this one. Anyway, my clock ended up here and I hung it on the wall.
It is not an ordinary clock. It’s face is hand-stitched, an embroidered arrangement that is quite unlike the standard X-X-X-ing affair. My mother made it. She went through a needlepoint phase. And this same clock was perched on a shelf in the kitchen of the home where I grew up, where it stayed throughout the years of my childhood.
I don’t know how I ended up with it after my mother’s death. I don’t recall asking for it. Yet there it is.
The ticking that I heard while reading Where the Red Fern Grows startled me first because I recognized it as the ticking I heard regularly in my previous home many many miles from this rented house where I now live. It had been a sweet little home, but expensive and living there was a heroic attempt on my part to build a life near where all my grown sons live. It fell apart — not the home, but the attempt to a build my life there. It was in New England and New England, at least that particular part of it, proved too expensive for someone like me and I had to leave.
As I said, I do not know how the clock ended up in my car as I loaded things to transplant myself many miles away. It startled me when I was reading Where the Red Fern Grows and I had to stop.
I lifted my head. I rubbed my eyes and tried to visualize what it was that had seized me in that moment. Was it the remembrance of the home where the clock once stood in my youth? Much conflict arose from that home and my life was damaged by it. Yet it oddly consoled me.
It hung as well in the home that I recently left when I had tried to establish my life near the worlds of my sons.
Those other worlds are long gone. The world of my mother and where I tried to secure a life for myself near my sons — that is gone too.
I sit under a dim light in a rented house reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I hear the ticking of my mother’s clock here with me in this rented house. It helps me remember who I am, where I was once, where I came from, and where I have taken myself. It seems an old friend who has stood the test of time and lost worlds, who holds it all in balance, both indifferent and faithful. On time.