I held the pocket watch to my ear. There was a whisper of a tick. Was I imagining it? The thin hands beneath the crystal didn’t seem to move, but then you really wouldn’t see them.
It felt smooth in my hand, like a perfect skipping stone. The ring from which a chain was attached was flat, functional and unobtrusive. It was a miniature work of art. I wondered if my father felt that way about the watch. I had never seen him use it. And, my guess is that it had belonged to my grandfather on my mother’s side and he inherited it. Had my father kept it in a box with other mementoes, looking at it occasionally to be reminded of his father in-law, or perhaps his own father, although that seemed less likely; his father wouldn’t have owned such a stylish watch.
“Look at this one,” my bother in-law, Edward, said pulling another pocket watch from a small velvet pouch. It too was beautifully crafted but far smaller than the first; a lady’s pocket watch.
No doubt this had been my grandmother’s, and maybe her mother’s before that. A garland of roses enameled on the back formed the letter “S.” The front cover was iridescent, reflecting a gold and pink glow with a circle of Roman numerals, with tiny hands telling the time. I pressed the stem and the cover lifted to reveal the full face. I rotated the stem carefully, making sure not to over wind it, and listened. It, too, offered a faint ticking, or so I thought.
It was maybe 45 years since those tiny mechanisms rotated.
All that time and the two watches came to life again.
My father must have marveled at that, too, for surely the watches went unused for years before he received them. Had he and my mother found them when they went through my grandmother’s belongings? Now Edward and I were opening my father’s capsule of special possessions. It felt like opening a door to a private room without knocking.
Unfortunately, that’s the way it had to be. I would have loved for him to be there to tell us the story behind each item Edward had assembled from drawers and boxes throughout the house.
There were cuff links; foreign coins; a pen knife with my father’s initials; a cigarette box; dog tags; a gold pen with his name; a silver cigarette lighter; a ring with its interior engraved with the special name my mother called my father – intimate, meaningful objects that were part of his world. In another box that served as a mini-writing desk – the iPad of the time, as my niece aptly called it – there were letters and other papers important at the time. There were more items that held meaning, although I couldn’t imagine why he had saved a Canadian two-dollar bill.
If only he was there to tell the story.
It was not like this when my mother died 12 years ago. My father was there. He went through her belongings and surely knew the significance of many items. He gave away her jewelry to family members, and things of special value to them both, he surely kept.
But now, immediate family members of his generation are gone. Gone, too, are the connections to many of the “treasures” we were finding. Without the history, they were just items.
Or are they?
My sister, Claire, and her husband Edward, had a plan. Over the July 4th weekend, when the family was together, we would bring everything out and let our children and their spouses choose what they liked. We didn’t determine how we would resolve the situation when more than one of them chose the same item. A lottery as to who should get first pick seemed like a fair way to do it, although that was impersonal and left to chance. Families go through this all the time. It could be a source of hard feelings and even years of resentment.
Like Edward and me, our children and their spouses were intrigued when we brought out the boxes. These were things they hadn’t seen either. They were getting a new perspective on my father and, like me, had questions about the stories behind those items that surely had been handed down to my father.
As for the portable writing desk, there was unanimity that it be kept intact as a “memory box” that we could look through in years to come. To distribute its contents would destroy that.
But what of other items, some bearing mysterious initials and engravings of endearment? And the others with no obvious family connection?
The distribution will come at some point. There was no need to rush it. At some time, like the watches, the items will spring to life to take on new meaning because of a man who once thought they were important to save.