In Techniques

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I remember the first time I saw a picture of the clock at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. It was a reproduction in the Stickley catalog. I looked at the picture of the clock in the catalog and instantly assumed from the photo that it was a mantel clock. I would learn later that this was a severe underestimation.

The clock in the Great Hall of the Grove Park is an 8′-tall, 4′-wide behemoth of quartersawn oak, copper and testosterone. Elbert Hubbard (of Roycroft fame) had designed it for the resort’s grand opening in 1913. I looked at the picture in the book. I looked at the empty corner in my living room. I looked back at the picture again. I’m not certain what happened next, but, as with all great epiphanies, I started down the long, spiraling path to certain disaster and picked up the phone.

A few weeks later we arrived at the hotel. There is only one word that can describe walking into the Grove Park Inn on a spring day: aromatic. There were flowers everywhere. The building was littered with flowers. Every square inch of floor space (save a small footpath to the front desk) was jammed with flowers. I put my young son, Daniel, on my shoulders to look over the foliage in search of the clock. We found it.

There, behind a flower-wrapped red rope sat the object of my obsession: the only reason (other than the funeral of a wealthy relative) that I would spend eight hours in a car with my family. I was enthralled. The boy and I parted company with my wife, Helga, and my daughter and made a beeline through the jungle toward the giant timepiece.

Frankly, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to touch the clock (otherwise, why would they have a rope around it?) So, being a civilized man, I stood back, pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling wildly. I took pictures. I measured the rocks on the wall behind it, trying to get a point of reference.

I measured Daniel and had him stand next to the rocks behind the clock and took yet more pictures. Still, there was a critical dimension that was being missed.

Now, those of you who are without sin can cast the first stone, but I had come there to measure that clock… and by God, that clock was going to be measured.

Between a father and son, there is one phrase that is more significant and magical than any other in the human experience. Four simple words that solidify the bond between man and boy like no others can.

“I need a diversion.”

Most boys wait their entire lives to hear their father utter that one sentence. It is a guarantee that the old man is about to do something either idiotic, ignorant, illegal or insane, and anything that they do to cover for him (short of a felony) will be approved of — even applauded. My 2 ?-year-old son understood the significance of the moment and rose to the occasion.

Thirty seconds later the boy was stripped naked and running full-bore through the Great Hall. Dancing through the flower display like Adam in the Garden of Eden and yowling at the top of his lungs. It was a sight to behold. Being a good (perhaps passable) father, I checked to ensure that my wife was apprised of the situation before I continued. In the few seconds that I watched her, Helga’s face turned from its usual pasty white to an even more pasty white and then bright crimson before she darted from the reservation counter toward the boy as other arriving patrons stood watching, aghast.

We were “go” for launch.

In an instant I was under the rope and on the clock like white on rice. I measured everything I could reach. I clung to the rock wall and measured things I couldn’t reach. All while my son (of whom I am very, very proud) eluded his mother and danced naked through the Great Hall. It was a moment of perfect harmony, and one that couldn’t last.

You know what’s wrong with modern America? Hidden video cameras. Followed closely by big, well-dressed men with walkie-talkies, I won’t bore you with the discussion that followed in the manager’s office, but suffice it to say that we watched quite a bit of television before he returned our deposit and recommended that we find other accommodations.

Helga’s face was contorted with rage as we pulled into the Asheville Travelodge. Daniel, on the other hand, was wearing a smile that you couldn’t pry off with a crowbar. I may be wrong, but, I think that’s what family vacations are all about. PW

Walt Akers now stays exclusively at the Travelodge when not at home in Seaford, Virginia.


Editor’s Note: While Walt’s column certainly made us laugh, he did utilize the old writer’s trick of stretching the truth for the sake of humor. The clock of which he speaks is pictured below, and is on display daily in the Grove Park Inn, sans ropes or guards. While the staff may let you measure it, the size of the clock would preclude use in most homes. However, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture”, does include a measured drawing for a scaled-down 6-foot Roycroft tall clock that would likely suit better. Enjoy!

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