Time catches up with a sweet clock repairman

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News

Time seemed to stand still in Pellom’s Time Shop. At a time that when people use cellphones to tell time, Pellom’s cluttered repair business in downtown Black Mountain was full of clocks, their hands frozen until the ever-affable John Pellom got around to fixing them.

Which could take years, his friends said. But they didn’t seem to mind. Pellom, 89, died Sept. 25.

 Judy Curtis, a 33-year resident of Black Mountain who works in customer service for a local government agency, said she dropped off a clock at Pellom’s six years ago. Periodically she would check in to see how the repairs were coming “and he’d always say, I haven’t got it quite right yet, give me a little more time,” she said, laughing.

John Pellom was proud of the painting that Alabama photographer John Lewis made of him about five years ago.

“Of course, he was notoriously slow at getting things done,” Richard Hudson, who knew Pellom since the mid-1960s, said. “One Christmas we got our girls some charm bracelets and I took them to John and said, ‘John, can you put these charms on?’. (He said), ‘oh yeah, I can do it.’

“I think he had them at least two years. I finally went to pick them up and told him, ‘if you can’t do it, I’ll take them somewhere else.’ And about an hour later, here he comes with all three of them. I guarantee you he put those charms on right then.”

Every time Curtis would go into Pellom's  shop to check on her clock, he would grab her hand and press it to his lips. “He had me at that, it was so totally sweet,” she said. “I remember calling a friend at first and saying, what’s up with this man. And she said, he’s always been a flirt.”

Once, Curtis asked a friend to check on her clock at Pellom’s. Pellom expressed surprise that Curtis hadn’t come herself. Even though the friend had Curtis’ money and claim ticket, Pellom indicated he couldn’t possibly release the clock until Curtis herself came to get it. She's sure he charmed her friend because he couldn’t find the clock in the shop - and because it wasn’t ready.

“I think it would have taken him all day to find that clock,” Curtis said. “Which is probably why his shop was full of clocks. People probably forgot they had clocks there.”

Pellom was born May 4, 1928 in DeKalb County, Georgia, according to an obituary that ran in The Black Mountain News Oct. 5. He was a greeter at First Baptist Church in Black Mountain and a clock repairman in town for 68 years (he started working in his father's watch shop in 1949). His wife Sarah Elizabeth “Betty” Pellom preceded him in death. His daughter and son-in-law live in Swannanoa.

Several decades ago, Pellom hung out with friends at Knight’s Pharmacy, where Kilwin’s is now, Hudson said. “They’d all gather up in the back, where the coffee pot was, and solve all the world’s problems and talk about Black Mountain politics,” he said. When the drug store closed, the group met in various places around town, including Uzzell’s, the drug store where Town Hardware store is now.

Hudson never knew Pellom to drive. For years, before Pellom moved near the Black Mountain Library, he lived about halfway up Montreat Road. Every day until he recently moved to Givens Highland Farms, he’d walk to and from work. This went on for decades, more or less, Hudson said. Hudson’s father would see him occasionally and give him a ride. So did Hudson’s mother.

“But when she gave him a ride, he always wanted to get out before they got to his house so his wife wouldn’t see him in a car with another woman,” Hudson said, laughing.

Hudson’s favorite “Pellom story” – and there seem to be a lot of them around town – was about the day Pellom left his shop to go somewhere, leaving the door unlocked as he always did. “When he came back, there was a lady sitting in his shop in a lawn chair. He kind of looked aghast,” Hudson said, “and said, ‘ma’am, can I help you?’ And she said, ‘oh no, I just came to visit my clock.’”

Micki Cowan owns My Father’s Pizza, near Pellom’s Time Shop, on Cherry Street. Most every afternoon during summer, Pellom would walk in the back door of the restaurant and “borrow” an iced tea, she said.

“He would help himself,” she said, indicating that she never minded. “I think it was more to visit than that he was thirsty. He was always a delight, with a kind word and a smile on his face. He always had a joke.”

“John was always a jokester,” Hudson said. “Loved to tell and hear jokes. Always had a new joke, every time you saw him.”

“He was a really funny person,” said Karen Buell, whose store, Thyme & Again, has been beside Pellom’s Time Shop for 30 years. “He pretty much knew everyone in town.” And, she said, beginning to laugh, “he had quite a collection of clocks -except they didn’t belong to him.”

On weekdays, friends would drive Pellom to the senior lunches at the Lakeview Center for Active Aging, where he enjoyed the company as much as the food, Cowan said. “He loved to sit there and talk,” she said. “He’d talk to everybody. No one was a stranger. In all those years I knew him, I didn’t know him to say a cross word to anyone.”

 He was a man “who worked by his own schedule,” Buell said in a follow-up email. “There was a certain number of things to accomplish each day, and he didn't like to be rushed.

“Customers would come in my store to find out where John was, and wondered if he ever came to work,” Buell continued. “I would ultimately go through my ‘John's hours’ talk. He arrives around 9, then goes for coffee at 9:30. He has a house call occasionally, but comes back in time to get a ride to lunch. He is back from lunch by 1:30 or so, and works until it is time for a haircut, or to get something from the hardware store, or go to a funeral or the thrift shop.

“The best time to catch him in his store is at 4:30 because I would give him a ride home at 5. If someone asked if he finished work on their clock, he would reply, ‘it's almost done, I just need to order a part.’ He has had my clock for 28 years. It makes me sad to think I will be getting it back.”

One of Pellom’s most endearing characteristics was his ability to be content with what he had, Buell said.

“John didn't have a lot of the things that most of us think we cannot live without,” she said. “He never drove, didn't have a phone at his shop, and never seemed to think that he was inconvenienced. People came from all over to visit with him, reminiscing about the days when people still wore watches instead of using cell phones to tell time.

“Women cooked meals for him and delivered them to his home, where the bag filled with dinner would hang from his mailbox. Many times he would get in (my) car in the evening carrying something homemade that one of his many friends brought him.  Telling a good story or joke was more important than the money that could be made by sticking to business. He was a good, good friend.”

“He was just absolutely precious,” Curtis said. “I have many sweet memories of chatting with him, and I know many local folks feel the same way.”