The bell in the First Presbyterian Church of Hudson rings the hours for our little city. We live close by so it took some getting used to. This public, booming sort of timekeeping gives a shape to the passing hours and I count the bell tolls as a way to keep myself oriented. The bells help me think about what I’ve done and need to do in a day, and it’s a small pleasure knowing the time without looking at a screen. Here in my office I’m in clear signal shot of the tower as the bell rings by the day.
Last summer and then again this past October the bells stopped ringing the hours. Something was wrong. I wondered, was I just tuning it out? Had it stopped? I read on the Gossips of Rivertown that the clock’s purpose was being questioned, it was too loud for some people, considered unnecessary at night, and besides nobody from the city wanted to climb up there to keep it wound. The clock itself is owned by the city, maintained by the department of public works in a standing agreement with the church that goes back to 1802. So I wrote to the superintendent. Would they give me the job? I told him how the clock mattered to me, how I liked to care for old things and would be privileged to do this service for the city. There was no interview. I went up with a city worker who’s been winding the clock for a few years, he’s getting old and heavy, he doesn’t want to climb anymore, besides after the whole DPW got sick with the flu, it just fell aside. He showed me how to wind up the weights that power the clock and the bells. The weights unspool themselves every 8 days, down the 40 foot casement extending through the landings of the church tower. Getting them back up there requires perseverance. Now the clock is giving shape to my weeks too. I wind the weights up every Friday morning, and that gives me time to sit in the choir loft and wait for the clock to sound the next hour. Then, I’m satisfied. My daughter Maya, who is three, thinks this is my main occupation. She may have a point. One Friday morning I called home from the tower and rang the bell three times for Maya. “Listen,” I said. “It’s for you.”