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The First One for August 2009
Photo: The Weldes’grandfather clock.
In 1971, Bill was stationed with the U.S. Army near Heidelberg, West Germany. We thought it would be appropriately unconventional—anti-establishment was the word then—to get married over there, so I joined him as soon as we could scrape together the money for my trip.
The weekend after I arrived, we started exploring with a visit to Old Heidelberg, famous for its cobbled old main street, the Hauptstrasse. Though we would return to Old Heidelberg many times, I don’t remember ever again buying anything on the Hauptstrasse other than a drink at a sidewalk café; the shop prices were as famous as the castle.
Maybe it was curiosity about prices that drew us into the antique shop. Once inside, the proprietor led us to a back room where we first saw it—a fumed oak grandfather clock, nearly eight feet tall with a leaded glass door and spiral columns—the term now is barley twist.
As history buffs, we had always known our future home would contain antiques, but weren’t we putting the cart before the horse? We weren’t married. We had no place to live; we couldn’t tell the man where to deliver it. We had no furniture or appliances, not even dishes or silverware. Nothing. And it would take almost every cent we had until Bill’s next payday. Of course we bought it.
Weeks later, Bill could finally call the antique store with our new address, 35A Karlstrasse, Schwetzingen, fourth floor, no elevator. We arranged for delivery and paced, checking every few minutes from the balcony. On one trip outside, I suppressed my reaction when the dealer pulled up. “Hey, Bill, it’s here.”
I won’t repeat his words when he looked. From above we saw our precious clock, strapped precariously to the top of an Opel sedan. Bill swears the clock was longer than the car. They carried it up the four floors to our empty apartment. Later research indicated the clock was manufactured by L. Furtwangler & Sohns (LFS) and the trademark was registered in 1881.
We were hooked. Clocks led us to parts of Europe, to people, and to gastronomy we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. We discovered the Paris flea market at Clignancourt; we explored parts of Scotland, the Alsace, and tiny German and Austrian villages that rarely saw Americans.
On a trip without Bill to the USSR, I found antique watches at bargain prices. With obvious disgust, the dealer let me know they would be confiscated as I crossed back into Western Europe. But once again, clocks had led beyond the tourist experience, beyond the controlled sites programmed by the Soviet government.
Unknowingly in Heidelberg, we had set the tone for the months and years to come. I would own an antique rolling pin before a usable one, a Vienna regulator before a mixer, a Victrola before a stereo, a painted Alsacian chest before a sofa. While other young officers bought elaborate sound systems and European sports cars, we bought clocks.
Countless clocks and many years later, our first clock has followed us from Germany through seven homes to retirement in Wyoming without missing a beat. Our daughter says it’s the clock she wants if and when she marries. We’ll see. —Bill and Gail Welde (WY)