Connections: Heartbeat of the House

      The grandfather clock is ticking again. A clock expert, an East Hampton summer resident, cleaned and adjusted it this week and set it going for the first time in three years.
    It had stood with its pretty old face askew all that time after some hapless housepainters, clearing the furniture before setting to work on the living room, had laid it down, flat, on the floor. We were dismayed that it had been damaged, but hadn’t acted to get it fixed till now.
    Unfortunately, when Stan Bitterman, the expert, first arrived, the door of the clock case was locked, and the key, which we all remember as being attached to a Champagne cork that was left in a hiding place at the top of the case, was nowhere to be found. After a few days’ search, and after trying several ancient hollow-ended skeleton keys from antique dressers and such, I gave up and called a locksmith.
    Bob Bennett, the locksmith, wasn’t home, and his mother wasn’t encouraging about whether he would be able to help. I thought of trying someone else when I hadn’t heard from him in a few days, but made another call to the Bennetts anyway. This time, Annamae Bennett said she was about to go to the village on an errand and would stop by.
    Stop by she did, bringing three big bags of old, hollow-ended keys. Mrs. Bennett suggested we try them. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I brought out a small white table, and we began spreading out the keys. There were perhaps 200 of them. With a laugh, Mrs. Bennett suggested I work on it and left them in my care. She didn’t tell me how long I might be able to keep them.
    Daunted, I nevertheless tried two. The first didn’t slip into the slot. The second broke off in it.
    That was it. I would need to call Mr. Bitterman, who, I hoped, would be able to make a professional distinction between them. But later the same day, Mr. Bennett himself arrived. He had the clock opened in short order. He wouldn’t sell the key, though, saying it might come in handy elsewhere and, anyway, there was really no reason to lock the clock.
    Then came another hitch, however. In the years that the clock stood without ticking, I had forgotten that it has to be wound.
    “Do you have the crank?” my new friend the clock man asked, gently. He was able to wind the clock with a crank of his own, and promised to find me one of the correct size when he was next in New York.
    Just how I could have misplaced, or more likely hidden purposefully, the original key attached to a Champagne cork plus the original metal crank with a wooden handle, is unclear. But meanwhile, the clock, which may be 150 years old or more, has been put to rights.
    You sometimes hear complaints from city folks about local tradesmen here. The fact is, I was glad I had chosen to call a locksmith with a local name. Where else but in a small town with colonial roots — and from whom but a locksmith whose family, on both sides, goes back to its founding in the 17th century — would you be lent three big bags of antique keys? (Who else would even have them?) I was enthralled, and have been telling the story ever since.
    There is something about grandfather clocks that makes people wax poetic.
    The clock man put it simply. “It’s a matter of the heart,” he said.