Actually, he liked all time pieces: wrist watches, alarm clocks, wall clocks, grandfather clocks and others. If you wanted to please him with a gift, you could never go wrong buying a clock. Any clock. The more unusual, the better.
Still, it was clear that pocket watches were his favorite. He had a whole collection of them.
He always carried one in the watch pocket on his pants. It was secured with a sparkly gold chain and attached to a belt loop to lessen the danger of losing it. I loved watching him take his watch out of his pocket several times a day, look at the time – and then put it back, leaving the gold chain visible on the front of his pants.
Throughout my childhood, I watched every evening as he went to a cabinet in the dining room and took out a small jewelry box. He sat down in the living room, opened the box and removed a pocket watch, wound it, listened to its ticking, and then, after wiping it off with a jewelry cleaning rag, he put it back ever so carefully and took out another one. He continued until he’d wound and cleaned all eight of them. And he went through the same routine every evening.
When I was older, he told me the story behind each watch. The one I found most interesting, he called a “Railroad watch.” He said his Uncle Victor, who was once an engineer for the C & O Railroad, left it to him in his will. He was so proud of it!
Another one that intrigued me was a big silver one with Roman Numerals. He said his dad had given this one to him. And again... he beamed with pride as he showed it to me.
I can’t remember all the stories, but one day, I had sons, and when they were old enough, they became just as interested in their grandpa’s beloved watch collection as I’d been. They listened with rapt attention as he told them the same stories I’d heard years before. At some point, he told each of them to pick out his favorite watch and he’d make sure their grandmother gave them to them when he passed away.
They were elated!
From then on, every time we visited, the boys asked to see their watches. My dad would let them hold them and he taught them how to wind them correctly so as not to overwind and destroy the spring.
And so... years later, when my father passed away, my mother couldn’t part with the watches immediately, but she eventually did give each grandson the watch he’d picked out at least two decades before. Each of them carefully put them away for safe-keeping. Neither wanted to take a chance on losing or breaking an item with so much tradition and emotion attached to it.
The youngest son bought a glass dome with a hook to hang his watch on and displayed it in a prominent, but safe, place in his home. For several years, it stayed there, a conversation piece for visitors and sweet memories for him.
Then – disaster!
He awakened early one cold, snowy, January morning to find his small home on fire. He tried to put it out, to no avail, and finally had to give up and jump through a window to save himself.
He lost everything – even his cat!
So heartbroken about losing his home and everything in it, the watch never crossed his mind until the next afternoon when he and a friend poked around in the dying embers with sticks to see if anything had survived. Suddenly, the sun glinted off something in the pile of ashes and shone in his eyes. Looking a little closer, he couldn’t believe what he saw!
It was the glass dome! And the pocket watch was still hanging on the hook!
Everything he owned was gone. He had only the clothes on his back. But the watch had somehow survived! In fact, he wound it and it started ticking, as always.
I’d like to know how and why this happened—to have a logical explanation that makes sense—but nobody will hazard a guess. It's as if no one wants to question such a bizarre happening.
“Just be happy he didn’t lose the watch and let it go at that,” a friend said. Seems I have no other choice.
Truth really is stranger than fiction, isn't it?