Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death...
© Donn Haven Lathrop 1998
In the early 'thirties, a stalwart young couple of recent marriage and of a religious persuasion embarked for Mexico, with the intent of making a life in that country and, as was common in those days before the concupiscent 'television minister', becoming missionaries to the benighted heathen. Their '31 Ford rattled over the unimproved roads in the mountains west of Mexico City through the Mil Cumbres (One Thousand Peaks) region to Lake Pátzcuaro in the heart of what had once been the Tarascan Kingdom, a kingdom that had managed to repulse the bloodthirsty Aztec horde and retain its independence.
They settled across the lake from the town of Pátzcuaro in an even smaller town named Puacuaro, where 'ere long, they were blessed with four children.
For some reason, perhaps the machinations of the local curandéra---a form of healer, witch, layer-on-of-curses, or perhaps the machinations of another, older and better established religious sect, the Town Fathers of Puacuaro determined that the couples' presence was inimical to the health and happiness of the townspeople, and that they should in some way be persuaded to leave. I believe that modern scriveners of the mystery/adventure genre would label this "persuasion" as "termination with prejudice". Upon hearing of this, the husband racked his brain for some means through which this verdict could be voided.
The four children were enamored of a cuckoo clock hanging on the adobe wall of the kitchen, and learned very quickly to tell time, that they might hourly gather before this miracle of horology, and watch the bird bob in time to the "Hoo-hoo---clang"---a show which not only fascinated the children, but the townspeople as well.
The town offices, and indeed, the entire town, were devoid of the sophistication of modern horological devices, and told time according to the heliacal passage, or according to the dissonant clang of the canonical hours which issued from the tower of the local church. Inspiration struck, and the husband took down from the wall the beloved cuckoo clock; bird, weights, and bellows, and bore it to the town offices. With many a formal and flowery phrase the clock was presented to the Town Fathers, instructions as to its care and feeding were passed on, and the little town of Puacuaro---now a clock-owner---rose mightily in the esteem of its neighbors.
The husband discovered that the Shadow of Death no longer hung over his valley, and 54 years later his son is still alive to write these lines. The son grew to adulthood, and in midlife, as do so many of us, became enamored of clocks, and delved into the Ancient Art and Mysterie of Clockmaking. In due course, many thousands of miles from Lake Pátzcuaro, and many tens of years later, a customer brought to his shop a cuckoo clock in need of some skilled attention.
Upon inquiry as to the cause of its injury, the owner responded, "My husband shot it!" and there, in the small door behind which lurked the bird and the "Hoo-hoo---clang" mechanism, was a small hole---roughly .22 inches in diameter. A startled glance at the back of the case revealed a much larger hole not made by the maker, and that within the case the splintered remains of a hand-carved wooden bird were bestrewn. Further discreet questioning revealed that the husband was now 'ex-', the owner wanted the clock repaired, and that there was no possibility of retribution from the bird-killer against the clock, its owner, or the repairer.
These two clocks---the owner of the one visited by the Shadow of Death, and the other itself having endured a fell blow from the Shadow of Death---yet still alive---are for some reason inextricably linked in the writer's memory.