The big, round clock that hung from the wall above the kitchen sink - with real numbers and strong black hands, nothing fancy about it - just stopped working one day.

Battery operated, it remained alive during power failures, one of the few dependable appliances functioning in the house.

You coul soft-boil the perfect egg by watching its wide-sweeping second hand.

Roasting and baking were timed by the clock. We did not trust the tiny one attached to the side of the electric stove.

Removing the clock from the wall and feeling smug about having spare batteries. I made the quick switch and held it up to watch it come alive, only to find the second hand was not moving.

Like all homespun appliance repairmen, I gave it a good shake. Nothing happened.

Not being the frugal sort - although feeling the pinch like everyone else - I made up my mind to start saving right now by either attempting a home repair or going without it.

Each time I walked into the kitchen, my eyers darted to the round bare spot - a little lighter than the rest of the wall - which taunted me as I wondered why it was necessary to know the time so soften.

Clocks and time never seemed to be important during the early days of my life.

I trusted my parents when the called me for school each morning, and I knew how long it would take to wash and dress, have breakfast and join the other kids on the way to school.

The buzzer sounded in the schoolyard telling us to line up.

The teacher controlled our morning and the buzzer sounded for lunch, and once again to send us home.

Chaning our school clothes, we player nearby and were summoned to supper by my fatheer's shrill whistle through his fingers.

Finally we were told when it was time to go to bed.

Time meant nothing: It was just morning, noon and night.

It went very much like that in high school, being wakened, buzzers sounding again in the halls for a change in classrooms. We know how long it took for us to get to athletic practice and were conditioned to the coaches' whistles.

All through this period there were other aids: factory whistles, church bells, and the loud blast at 9 each night from the horn on top of the main fire station.

The Navy then took over for a few years, waking us by shouting, or with bugles, bos'n whistles, bands playing, telling us to line up for showers, for chow.

At sea it was the bells every half hour, around the clock.

Conditioned to all these sounds, my first insecurity came when I was a student in New York without a watch or a clock. The cheap, wind-up alarm I invested in and never trusted only helped in one way.

By glancing at the clock with one sleepy eye, I learned that my roommate woke at 7, showered, shaved and was dressed by 7:30.

In the small confines of the efficiency partment, he would crunch away on his shredded wheat at 7:45 and leave at 8.

There would be a half hour to sleep before the handyman would be hanging his mop along the hall and I knew it was time to get up so I could leave by 9.

I checked the big clock in the window of the florist shop on the corner each day on the way to the subway.

The clock in the subway assured me I was on schedule, and the one in the window of the drug store at the other end told me there was five minutes before roll call.

During the day it went like any other school. The instructor would tell us to break for lunch and be back in an hour.

We all knew when the hour was up and were told when the class was over for the day.

My job at night was on a newspaper and I had mastered the time in getting there perfectly.

I knew the deadlines because an editor would tell me; and when the presses started running, the guy next to me would say, "Right on time," or, "The're five minutes late."

It was only when the school days were over and real life started that knowing the time became important.

There were no parents, teachers, or petty officers to keep you moving along on time.

Moving to the suburbs made knowing the time important for catching the commuter's bus.

"Is the clock fast or slow?" became a question when getting you own kids off to school or some other activity, but they couldn't have cared less about time, allowing themselves to be herded about.

Morning disc-jockeys were tolerable because they gave the time every few seconds.

There were trains and planes, appointments to be kept, and nobody else in charge of my time. A watch had to be bought.

Of course we have other clocks in the house, but we aren't as used to glancing at them as we were the kitchen clock.

When we wake in the morning with the strange feeling that some time during the night a sneaky power failure has robbed us of 27 minutes, we use radios and telephones.

No, the kitchen clock has to be put back up again soon. We still need it.

The span of time in our lives made me think of my neighbor, a retired colonel who has already gone through the whole progression.

He like to sit in his driveway and watch people hurrying to work, and sometime around noon he would pop open his first beer.

Knowing that there were no signs around to let him know - the mailman came at different times, depending on the season - I went over and asked him how he knew it was time for his beer each day.

He laughed and said, "When the sun is over the yardarm." I drove off wondering about cloudy days and realized he had come the full cycle, and time for him each day was again morning, noon, and night. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption; Picture, no caption.