Sunday, February 23, 2014

Setting the alarm

February 23, 2014

Dear friends,

My trusty old alarm joined the list of mechanical objects that permanently retired this year.  The clock came to the end of its service with a rather spectacular display of constantly changing red digital numbers that reported a different hour of the day approximately every minute. 

Annie (cat of the house) found this behavior entertaining, and would sit on the night stand and watch with interest as the red numbers spun around. However, the person of the house (me) did not find this method of telling time very useful. A new clock was ordered.

The clock that I chose is a remarkable object with TWO alarms, a restful green digital read-out clearly visible in the dark, a choice of radio or buzzer for each of the two alarms, radio to sleep by (FM or AM), and a snooze button with three different settings.

Given my infamous ineptitude with mechanical things, you will wonder what I was thinking when I ordered a clock with such a large option list of settings and multiple buttons to push. I should have known there would be trouble. However, the possibilities of a programmable snooze alarm overcame my good sense, and the new clock with all of its potential for splendid, continuing confusion arrived yesterday.

The task of plugging the clock in the first time, and setting just one of the two alarms proved challenging to say the least, but not worth a blog. In the process, however, a memory of my father surfaced that I would like to share.

During our high school years, in the evening my sister and I had chores, homework, dates, and (inevitably) "one more thing to do" and so were habitually late getting to bed. As a result, we were chronically sleep deprived. We would carefully set the alarm to ring at the very latest possible moment, hoarding every moment of precious sleep, then rush like mad to get to school on time.

In this process we developed the disastrous habit of shutting the alarm off and going back to sleep. There was no snooze alarm, and no adult to supervise—our father was at the barn doing chores. The alarm that frequently shot us out of bed and into action was not a clock but the sound of the kitchen door as our frustrated father brought in the milk. The frantic rush in the morning to get out of the house with books, lunch, and some kind of breakfast was a daily crisis.

One spring night Beth and I had a particularly intense discussion about the specific time at which I should set the alarm. The school bus was leaving early the next morning for a music festival in a nearby “city” and it was imperative that we both be at school early and on time for the bus. We attempted to calculate down to the very second the latest possible time we could sleep and still make the bus. When at last the clock was set we gathered up books and homework and music and placed them on the chair by the kitchen door so nothing essential would be forgotten in the morning rush. 

After a relative quiet fell in the kitchen, our father looked at me over the top of the newspaper he was reading.

“You know, Gay, I don’t believe I know anybody as good as you are at setting an alarm.”  He paused, then added with a smile, “But it seems to me you sure could use some more practice at getting up.”

Thinking with you today that it would certainly be an improvement in the present world if getting up were as easy as setting the alarm even on the new clock.

See you next week.


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