Souvenirs from summer vacations should be thoughtfully purchased. There’s much to consider before buying a keepsake: expense, practicality and ease of transportation home.

But all rational thought can fly out the window when you fall in love with something. This happened to me last summer when I was captured by the magic and craftsmanship of a Black Forest cuckoo clock.

While enjoying a Rhine River cruise, my parents and I visited many gingerbread-trimmed shops selling the region’s famous cuckoo clocks. It’s kind of fun to be surrounded by dozens and dozens of clocks, all striking and chiming at the same time. Cuckoo birds emerge from their trap doors, wings flapping, heads turning and beaks moving, all announcing the time.

More sophisticated clocks have several moving features — woodcutters chopping, couples dancing, beer drinkers swigging, deer jumping and waterwheels turning. Even the most cynical person might find it hard to resist the charm of the synchronized miniature figurines.

Many trips ago, I overcame impulse souvenir buying after painful extra baggage fees. Since then, I have limited purchases to small items which can fit in my suitcase (and accommodate my wallet).

Throughout our German excursion, I had overlooked the hand-carved clocks, but on a rainy day in Miltenberg, my attention was captivated by a charming chalet-style clock.

It featured the traditional moving dancers, waterwheel and, of course, chirping cuckoo, but the highlight was a kissing couple. A boy and girl, sitting on a bench in front of the chalet, share a sweet kiss. The boy slides across the bench while the girl shyly turns her head to receive it. Tiny hearts painted on the chalet shutters echo the clock’s message of love.

“Oh, Mom! Look at this one!” I said.

“It’s very sweet,” she said, “but would your husband like it? Does it chime at night?”

A hovering sales clerk, seizing the moment, said, “The mechanism can be turned to silent for sleeping.”

All my life, my mother has been the voice of reason, particularly when it comes to consumerism. Like clockwork (no pun intended), she has consistently stressed practicality. Her first reaction is to ask, “Do you need it?” and “Can you afford it?”

But on this day, as we watched the tiny kissing couple and listened to “Edelweiss” (on the hour) and “Happy Wanderer” (on the half hour), she changed her tune.

“Buy it,” she urged.

Well, I didn’t need to be told twice. But, oh, the price tag caused me to hesitate and swallow hard.

Then I remembered a tourist goodie bag we had received earlier in the trip. It contained the shopper’s version of a golden ticket: a coupon. The problem was I had left the goodie bag on the ship.

The coupon’s discount was too good to pass up, so, despite the pouring rain, I ran several blocks to the dock. When I returned 40 minutes later, soaked to the bone, the clever clerk had boxed the clock for shipping. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line.

Six weeks later when the package arrived, my husband was not as thrilled as I was. He wished the ship and the coupon had been out to sea that day.

With a heavy sigh of resignation, he assembled the weights and chains, and hung the clock on the wall.

“It makes noise,” he muttered, “and if you forget to wind it, the clock can’t even perform its basic function which is to tell time.”

So we reached an agreement where I take responsibility to wind the clock each morning and remember to turn off the music at night. (I’ve forgotten a few times; oops.) This happy solution keeps peace in the household and guarantees there are two kissing couples: the wooden boy and girl on the clock and, more importantly, us.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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