6:42

My sister and I had one of those “oh, my” moments last week at Mom’s storage unit when we found Dad’s alarm clock in a box of stuff. Every night he was home during his more than forty-six years on Kilian Boulevard, Dad had wound the little brown clock – Westclox? Timex? I don’t recall right now – and checked the alarm before setting it back on the nightstand and turning off the light for the evening.

It was that brown alarm clock that had started our weekdays during the school year, waking Mom and Dad at 6 a.m. They’d get dressed, and then Dad would rouse my sister and me while Mom headed downstairs to make breakfast for all of us.

When my second year of college started in September 1972, after my sister had decamped during the summer for marriage and a life in the Twin Cities, my mom decided to sleep in most mornings. That meant it was just Dad and me during the early morning, getting ready for our days across the river at St. Cloud State. He’d rise and dress, then wake me, and both of us would head out the door and drive off right around 7 a.m., he in his 1952 Ford and me in the 1961 Falcon I’d just inherited from my sister.

And for some reason, as the college quarter started during September 1972, Dad began waking me exactly at 6:42 a.m. Every day. Why that exact minute? I have no idea. But for some reason, that minute mattered.

There were days when I wasn’t quite sleeping, having surfaced from slumber to a half-waking state (a place between dreams and reality that I find quite pleasant), and I’d be aware of Dad standing next to my bed. Moments later, I’d hear the very faint click as the plastic tile in my clock radio flipped down, changing the time from 6:41 to 6:42, and Dad would shake my shoulder gently.

I’d nod, he’d head down the stairs to the kitchen, and I’d get out of bed and prepare for the day. By that time, neither of us ate breakfast at home, but when I got down to the kitchen, there would be a small glass of V-8 Juice and a larger glass of milk at my place at the table. I drank them standing up, and we’d head out.

And that’s how I started pretty much every school and work day from the autumn of 1972 until I moved away from Kilian Boulevard during the summer of 1976 (my time in Denmark excluded, although even there, I was an early riser). I never knew the significance of 6:42, and I never asked. I once mentioned it to my sister, and learned that before she left home, she was the 6:42 riser, with me following. Our conversation went elsewhere, so I never asked her the significance, if any, the minute had.

And I suppose I could have asked her last week, as she and I stood in the storage unit, looking at Dad’s clock with memories whirling in our heads. I didn’t think to do so.

She held up the clock and looked at me, as if to ask what to do with it. I shrugged; there are only so many things one can keep. She shrugged, too, and she placed Dad’s alarm clock into the box of things destined for an antique store.

And here’s an appropriately titled tune from the late Richie Havens: “Younger Men Grow Older.” It’s from an even more appropriately titled album, 1971’s Alarm Clock.

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One Response to “6:42”

  1. jb says:

    This is tremendous. The secret of 6:42. One of those oddball, unexplained and perhaps unexplainable things our parents do that we never forget.

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