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A tale of two clocks: Time flying

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. This is a tale of two clocks.

The first clock was a grandfather's clock and the story comes to us from a song I learned as a boy: "My Grandfather's Clock." It's the story of a grandfather's clock that was bought on the same day that a baby boy was born. The clock was a favorite of the little boy and it ran for 90 years, keeping perfect time while the boy grew up and eventually became a grandfather. Then the clock stopped running the day the grandfather died.

As the song relates: "90 years without slumbering — tick, tock, tick, tock. His life's seconds numbering — tick, tock, tick, tock. But it stopped. Short. Never to go again when the old man died." I've remembered that song for almost 90 years now. It was the best of times.

The second clock was a grandmother's clock. This was a real clock. When my mother went into the nursing home almost 20 years ago, she needed a clock with big numerals. So, I bought her an electric clock with numbers so big you could see them from across the room.

When mom died, I brought the clock to our house. We called it grandma's clock. You could see the numbers from across our bedroom and it ran like a charm — kept perfect time — until about a month ago. Then it didn't stop short, never to go again. It just suddenly lurched forward running fast. Every morning it signaled that it was about 20 minutes earlier than real time.

What does it mean when grandma's clock suddenly speeds up? Is it a signal from grandma — get up you sleepy heads, there's work to do? I can imagine all kinds of messages she could be sending. Some I don't want to think about.

When a clock gains 20 minutes a day, it's gaining one hour every three days, or ten hours every thirty days. That's approximately 360 hours a year, or 15 days a year. If it keeps ticking, it will gain 75 days in five years or 150 days (five months) in 10 years. So, in 10 years you would be five months older, according to grandma's clock.

"Time flies" we all say on New Year's Day or our birthdays or scores of times throughout the year, but gaining five months in 10 years is ridiculous. That's time travel — science fiction. And it sounds spooky to me.

Think about the implications. With no other clock to measure your time, within a month you would be going to bed at 1 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. and getting up at 7 p.m. instead of 6 a.m.

You math whizzes can tell me where I am wrong. But the point is, daylight hours would lose their meaning. The sun would rise and set just as it always has, but we'd never be able to set our inner clocks to make sense of our schedules for rising in the morning, working, resting, sleeping at night, or getting up in the morning. Even the terms "morning." "evening," and "daylight savings time" would need new definitions. Confusion? For sure. Would we ever work it out?

So, if you think a difference of less than one minute in an hour is meaningless, think again. Twenty minutes a day could nearly bring down our civilization. It would be the worst of times.