PRIME ESPERIENZE IN AMERICA
THE CLOCK IN THE KITCHEN
A few weeks had passed and I was starting to feel comfortable in my new environment. I had started to recognize the names of the streets that I used to walk through, even if I didn’t know the meaning of those names. I had also learned that I had to stop at the traffic light and make sure it was green before I crossed the street.
A few times, I had crossed the street with a red light and I had to run to the other side to avoid being run over by a car. In my little town, the few cars that passed would stop to let us cross at our own pace.
At the same time, the visits of friends and relatives that did not live close continued.
I was under the impression that I had a multitude of relatives because the visits were very frequent.
They came from New York, from New Jersey, from Pennsylvania and even from Detroit, Michigan. They came to see the relatives, to meet them for the first time or to see them again after twenty years of being apart.
They were always very emotional meetings. At first, we would hug warmly, then they would step back a little to look us over from head to toe and would give us compliments on our appearance.
Then they would hug us again and would kiss us on one cheek. It must have been an American custom; these compliments were very rare in our town.
The age of the relatives was quite varied: some were very young like me, while others were close to my father’s age. They used to call us on the phone before they left their house to tell us about their visit. “How nice” I thought. The telephone was such a useful thing: it was possible to plan in advance, to get ready and to know exactly what was happening at that moment even in a very distant place. There wasn't the uncertainty of the “let’s see when I get there”. It wasn't necessary to wait for the mail. Even when news came with some people who lived in the same town as our relatives, nothing was as fast as the telephone. I started to understand the deeply different life style here, comparing a little town in the middle of nowhere and an American city. Sure, we were doing the same things: eating, sleeping, waking up. However, in America everything followed an order; it was planned and organized. Very few things were left up to fate. The schedule was always followed: if you had something to do at a certain hour, that was the actual time of whatever it was that you had to do, not ten minutes earlier or ten minutes later. As much as I liked the new life style, sometimes this rigid inflexibility got me nervous. I felt like a prisoner of time. I also noticed a strange custom in the houses. Every house had a big clock hanging on the wall in the kitchen. They were cute; they looked like kittens or other characters from the cartoons. The colors were the same colors as the walls. At the time, the color that was used the most for the kitchen was yellow. Even the curtains were of the same color. The strange thing was that the clocks were always set to be about 10-15 minutes ahead of the actual time. It wasn't a mistake or an act of negligence: the owners of the house had set them up a few minutes ahead on purpose. When I asked for an explanation, they said that since there is never enough time, when you put the clock ahead you think you are running late and so you hurry up to make sure you get to work or wherever else you have to be on time. I didn't understand the purpose of it, considering that they knew that the time was wrong, but that system worked out pretty well. I thought about the clock of the bell tower. It use to ring every 15 minutes and we could hear the bells in the fields, all through the mountains and in the valleys. When the clock didn't ring because it was broken or because the time wasn't right, no one used to worry. It was enough to look at the position of the sun to understand what time it was, more or less. No one cared about 15-20 minutes of difference with the real time. Only a few people had an alarm clock, but even the alarm clock never indicated the right time. We, the “new arrivals,” used to talk about this strange custom regarding the clock in the American houses and we used to laugh about it, because we thought it was stupid. But we didn't see anything strange with our clock in the bell tower which very often would not work because someone had forgotten to charge it. I was starting to feel more and more the differences between the two worlds.
Delia Socci Skidmore