Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Watch

Memory can be a funny thing. If we think something long enough, we can start believing that something that never happened is true. Such is the case involving a watch that was given to my mother in the early 1970’s.

My brother and I wanted to buy our mother a birthday gift. Pooling our meager resources, we went to one of the two jewelry stores in the town where we did our shopping. We looked at all of the things we wanted to give our mother, who, as a recently widowed mother of seven children, didn't have many nice things to call her own.

Most everything was way too expensive for the two of us. My brother had just turned thirteen and in three months I would turn 15. I earned a little bit of money babysitting and cleaning house for an older couple on Saturday mornings. My brother helped a local handyman with grass cutting, trash hauling, whatever the man needed an assistant for. In other words, we weren't rich.

But it was our desire to buy something pretty for our mother. After looking at everything and narrowing it down to a few items that we could afford (under the watchful eye of the clerk who was probably thinking we were going to shoplift something), we decided on a watch. It wasn't real gold but rather gold-toned. It had a brown face with a manual wind knob on the side. It was a Caravelle and just the name sounded, to our young ears, beautiful. We thought the watch was beautiful, although it isn't something that I would choose today.

The clerk gift-wrapped the watch and added a card. My brother and I decided that even though we had paid for the watch ourselves, we would present the watch to our mother as a gift from all seven of us children.

Our mother liked the watched and wore it on occasion. It was not an every-day type of watch, which would have probably been more practical. She was pleased that we had given her something that we’d worked hard for and had picked out ourselves. It made us feel rich to look at our mother wearing the watch that we had bought for her.

Some years later, not long after I was married and we were home visiting my mother and the younger girls still at home, mom called me aside and gave me the watch. She asked me to keep it a secret because each of the younger girls wanted the watch and seemed to be under the impression that she would be giving it to them at some point. She thought that rightfully it should go to me, as the oldest girl and as the one who paid for the watch originally. The younger children had no part in the choosing or payment of the watch.

Not long after she gave me the watch we learned that she had cancer. Whether she already knew when she gave me the watch, I do not know. For some reason she asked me to not tell my siblings that I was now the owner of the watch; maybe she knew there would be a fuss over who it should belong to.

After our mother passed away, from time to time a sibling would mention the watch. It was rumored that this one or the other had it. I always feigned innocence. When my various siblings would come to visit, I knew there would be a search for the watch. And so when they visited it was safely wrapped and kept in the pocket of the jeans I was wearing.

I would hear that each sibling thought they should have the watch.  That our mother had “promised” it to each of them was their belief. I doubt that’s the case because a watch cannot be divided 7 ways and still be a watch.

Many of them also held a belief that they had had a part in the choosing and purchase of the watch. But the youngest child was three-years-old. The other children were about 5, 7, 10, 11, just-turned-13, and I was 14-almost-15. They had no jobs; they were too young. As a widow with 7 children, there was no allowance for any of us. As we became old enough we would babysit, clean house, or cut grass for our spending money.

We lived in a tiny place called Weems and it was a great place to live. Friendly people. Not a single traffic light existed in that town and the last time I was there, it still didn't boast one. The town of Kilmarnock, where we bought the watch was six miles away. And it was truly a town, as it boasted many different kinds of stores, restaurants, and banks. Weems only had a gas station, some churches, a marina, a post office, and a couple of oyster houses. What if didn't lack was character; I loved living there.

I am the one in the red bell bottoms! My brother
 who helped buy the watch  is wearing a white T-shirt.
My brother and I, being 13 and almost 15, had no car. So we walked the six miles into town. It was a lovely spring day and we enjoyed each other's company. Our 5 younger siblings did not come to town with us as it was too far for them. Yet the memory persists in some of them that they were also there for the choosing of the watch. Such is memory when we want to believe something badly enough.

My mother passed away at age fifty-one, now more than thirty years ago. I still have the watch. I take it out sometimes to look at it and reminisce about that long ago spring day in a rural Virginia town when we went to buy our mother a present. The watch no longer keeps time. I am no longer that young girl. But I forever will have the memory of my brother and me searching for just the right gift, within our means, for our mother. And of her passing it on to me shortly before she told us that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

My first watch. Given to me by my mother for my 7th birthday.

I keep her watch together with the first watch I ever owned. I received it from my mother for my seventh birthday. I loved it so much, and still do. The numbers and hands on the watch no longer glow in the dark. The passing of time is no longer marked by these two watches. In some ways time has stood still. I am still young. It is still spring. And my mother is still alive.

-Julie Clark 2012

Third draft. 

Copyright Julie P. Clark 2012

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