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Chimes of the times: Clocks I have known

It's about time _ if you'll pardon the pun _ for us to go through that twice-a-year ritual again.

Here we are in the last week of March, and it's on the first Sunday in April each year that we all move our clocks ahead an hour. There they will stay until the last Sunday in October, when we'll move them back again.

For some folks, this is a simple task. They are the ones, of course, who can manage with one or two clocks in the house. Often they don't even have a watch.

They're the ones who stop you on the street or anywhere else you might happen to be and ask you for the time. Obviously they give no thought to how much time you may have spent this year, or any other year, adjusting your clocks and watches just so you can accommodate them.

We probably don't have what would be considered an inordinate number of timepieces at our house. As I mentally survey the house, room by room, I come up with about eight. Then we must add the time-of-day features included with the television sets, VCRs, stoves and cars. That will be six more, please.

And don't forget the watches. My wife and I have six of those between us.

So it does take a bit of time to fix the time during these twice-yearly switches.

And as we do it, we tend to think about the clocks we have known _ clocks that in their day had some pizazz, compared to the often-faceless timepieces we depend upon today.

One that is no longer with us is a cuckoo clock that our children delighted in when they were young. I guess when they outgrew it, the cuckoo just flew the coop, because I can't remember what happened to it.

Another was a mantel clock with Westminster chimes that my wife just HAD to have, I suppose partly because we had a fireplace mantel that was screaming for it. So we got the clock and it screamed back.

Our oldest child was about 8 at the time, and for some reason we told him that clock not only chimed but at midnight shot out bursts of color, a la fireworks. Gullible he was, and we discovered him slipping downstairs shortly before midnight to watch the display. He probably never believed us again. Beside, he came to hate that clock because of its infernal chiming while he was practicing the piano.

But that clock is still around, having made the rounds _ first to our oldest daughter (who had a mantel) to our youngest (who doesn't, but positions it on her buffet).

My favorite clock, however, doesn't even LOOK like a clock. Instead of displaying the time, it speaks it on request.

Our youngest daughter gave me the clock probably 15 years ago, I think as much for a joke as anything else. But we all have come to treasure the calm and reassuring voice that gives us the correct time unfailingly 24 hours a day at the touch of a button. What's more, it still runs on the original battery.

This man never tires of waking us at the time of our choice. He will even give us 10 minutes' warning before our rising time. And there's nothing nicer than hearing him say, "Ten minutes until 7 a.m.," meaning we can turn over for 40 more winks before he's back again with a nice little tune and "The time is 7 a.m."

He also provides a little fun sometimes when we are traveling and his button gets jarred as we walk along someplace like an airport corridor. The time announcement emanating from my wife's carry-on bag tends to earn her an occasional furtive glance.

But this little guy is about the only clock we have now that has any personality, if that's something a clock can have. The mantel clock did, but its replacement is like it only in looks. (My wife decided we need a mantel clock and Westminster chimes after all, even if we had no mantel.) It has no pendulum, no key, no tock-tock.

It's just not a proper clock. Many of you remember the days when clocks and watches really ticked, when a crying baby might be quieted by a watch placed at his ear. I always found it reassuring to go into a room that was perfectly quiet except for the ticking of a clock. We don't get that chance much any more.

But while the clocks at our house just sit around and let their batteries call the plays, that old mantel clock sits atop the buffet at our daughter's house, its pendulum continuing to do its duty as time ticks on.

You can write to Jay Horning c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.