West-Running Brook

Family Time
It may look like a game, but it's something more important

I don't remember how it began or who started it, but about 10 years ago, my family began playing a simple game. Whenever a digital clock displayed all the same numbers--2:22, 3:33, 4:44, for example--we touched it for good luck. We didn't actually have to touch the clock to receive the luck: we could touch someone else who was touching the clock, creating a chain through which the luck would be transferred. The only catch was that if we were still touching the clock when it turned to the next number, the luck would be lost. And so it became important to get to the clock by the quickest route possible.

Illustration by Kathryn Adams.

This family ritual still takes place wherever there is a digital clock and one or more of us is present. If we are alone, we simply touch the clock, knowing that somewhere, someone else in the family may be doing the same thing. But if there are others within yelling distance, it is our responsibility to alert them to the time. When I still lived at home, it was not at all uncommon to hear my mother, in her bedroom, yell out "5:55!" My brother, Michael, and I would come tearing up the stairs to form a chain, reaching toward the bathroom where my father, mouth full of Colgate and toothbrush in hand, would stick his foot out the door to become part of the sequence.

After my father, mother, brother and I had been doing this for a few years, my brother's girlfriend, Meredith--now his wife-- and my boyfriend, Charlie--now my husband--were introduced to the game. To the six of us, it became an everyday activity as commonplace as turning on the television or getting something from the fridge. We did not see it as weird or strange, and we would forget that others were not accustomed to such antics.

One spring break, my 17-year-old cousin, Dave, came to stay with us. Dave, Charlie and I were sitting at the dining room table, my brother was lying on the couch in the living room, and Mom and Dad were in the kitchen. The clock turned, and Mom hollered out "4:44!" Dad spun around to grab her hand and reached toward us with his free one. My brother vaulted over the back of the couch and, diving for my father's hand, landed face down on the kitchen counter. Charlie and I slid our chairs across the dining room as the two of us bolted toward my brother's outstretched legs.

Having completed our chain, we calmly disconnected and were turning back to our previous activities when we noticed Dave looking up at us from underneath the kitchen table. "What the HECK was that?" he demanded. After we explained, Dave laughed and replied, "I thought she said, 'Floor, floor, floor!' and then you guys started jumping over tables and stuff, so I just ducked."

It was in an occupational therapy class at UNH that I first started to think about our game as a ritual, and to analyze its rules. In addition to the explicit rules about touching the clock and forming the chain, there is one unspoken rule: no matter what you are doing, when you hear someone yell the time, you come running. Nintendo games are left in mid-turn, crescent rolls are over-baked and instant-messenger friends are abandoned without even as much as a "brb" (be right back). Failure to sacrifice your current activity to join the chain is taken as a personal insult to those panting and bleeding by the clock.

Although we pretend the ritual is about luck, it's really about family. If my brother leaves his record-breaking video game to do something as seemingly pointless as touching the clock for luck, it shows he feels that we are more important. The ritual reminds us that family always comes first. It is comforting to know that there are people in this world to whom I take precedence and for whom I would make the same sacrifices. I always know that no matter how far I go, if I need to reach out my hand, no set of stairs, no couch, no distance and no circumstance could keep them from being by my side. ~

Lauren Brimblecom Voelker '02 wrote an earlier version of this essay for a UNH occupational therapy class. She is pursuing her master's degree and lives in Athens, Ga.

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