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The clock of our lives is always ticking
Somewhere in the house was my father’s watch. It was an old Timex, a workingman’s timepiece of stainless steel with one of those old-school expandable bands. Not worth much, monetarily at least. I knew I had it. But where? A dresser drawer? Maybe in a storage box in the basement? It had been a decade since my father’s death, since I held him in his hospice bed as his vital organs began to fail. Dad and I had a good relationship, but in the last year, I rarely saw him. I lived 500 miles away and it was difficult to visit. At least that’s what I had told myself. That’s how I had justify it.
It had also been years since I’d tried to find his watch. Maybe it was with Dad’s old leather wallet, I thought, the one that held the decades-old, tattered black-and-white photograph of a high school girlfriend. Of course, that’s another story. Holding onto an old photo for more than fifty years after being married to a different high school sweetheart for forty generates a lot of questions. There were a lot of other questions, too. Why hadn’t he spoken to his father for decades? Why did he frequently turn moody? Why did he easily anger? Why had his patience been so thin?
Curiosity about the old watch came after I had decided to shed some new technology. Not long ago, I had purchased a smartwatch, only to come to the conclusion that I had no need to know how many steps I’d taken in the last fifteen minutes, or what my current heart rate was, or receive yet another ping alert from ESPN about the NFL Draft or the pandemic and the dreadful Covid numbers, or a third text from an annoying cousin about a family reunion, the one I had no intention of attending. Instead, I had wanted something old-fashioned, simple, something that had weathered the years. But I did not want my father’s watch. Not a Timex. The watch, I thought, should be more refined, dependable, reliable, predictable — maybe a Hamilton or Omega.
A search led to a dealer on Etsy. It was a good timepiece, handsome, a Bulova from the 1950s. White gold. Small face. Elegant. “It runs well,” the dealer wrote in an email, and he’d included a video of the watch’s second hand moving its way around the Arabic numerals. I spent $100. It seemed a good deal. But a day after receiving the watch in the mail, it stopped working. The only way to get it going again was to gently shake it, but that worked only for a short while. In time, it would stop again. I emailed the dealer, who insisted it ran fine when it left his shop. “Be sure to let it acclimate to your home, the humidity and all that’s inside your house,” the dealer wrote. That seemed reasonable. Antiques can be touchy. And so, I gave it a shot and waited it out, mostly because I had wanted so badly for the watch to run. Looking back later at the dealer’s suggestion, I realized it was a rather ridiculous explanation. I gave the watch a few days anyway, but it would work only for an hour or two at a time and stop again.
It was a seventy-year-old timepiece, and I had resigned himself that it wasn’t going to be perfect. So, I wore it despite its flaws and when it was necessary, I shook it back to life. That process lasted only a couple of weeks before the ritual got old and, so, I took the watch to a local repair shop. It would take a few days to do the work — replace the crown, clean it, and buff the crystal. “It will run beautifully. It’s a good watch. Just needs some love,” the jeweler said. “It will be perfect.”
That evening, while searching the top drawer of my nightstand for something else, something I no longer remember, in a back corner under a collection of past Father’s Day cards I had received from my sons over the years and next to my father’s old leather wallet, was his Timex. It hadn’t been worn for many years. And it needed winding, and so I did that. Surprisingly, the watch worked. I set the time — 8:11 — and for two days the Timex — with its white face, black numbers, and sweeping second hand — ran smoothly and flawlessly. On the third day, I put the Timex on my wrist. The metal expansion band fitting neatly. And there it stayed.
In the days afterward, the jeweler at the repair shop telephoned several times. “Your Bulova is ready for pick-up,” he said in the first recorded voicemail message. “If you’re not going to come for your watch, we can ship it to you, but we need the address, and you have a bill to pay. Please contact us,” was his second message. The third was a sternly worded demand for a return phone call as soon as possible. And the fourth and final was simply a hang up. No message. Since then, I have been meaning to phone the jeweler and tell him to keep the old reconditioned Bulova.
I no longer have a need for it.
This essay was first published at THE WRITER SHED at Medium.