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Life Notes: The Pocket Watch 
One prized possession tells more than time

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you may have noticed that I almost always wear a gold antique pocket watch on a chain, the kind that opens with the touch of a little button to reveal the time. Except this watch is missing the little gold dials that indicate those numbers.

Three daughters and seven grandchildren – along with legions of other people’s toddlers – have been presented with that watch as a distracting device and have predictably tugged off those dials. But whatever damage this pocket watch endured, it means the world to me – not for its intrinsic worth, but for its history.

It was the first gift I received from my new husband, a man who hated to shop and definitely hated antique shops. He loves the here and now, and never understood my passion for the elderly bric-a-brac of others. But five months after our July wedding 57 years ago, Vic ventured into one of those shops because he knew I was his polar opposite: anything with a history instantly intrigued me.

I still remember how he presented that pocket watch to me. It was in a blue velvet box – also elderly – and he introduced the presentation with the immortal words, “You may hate this but …”

He had a worried look on his face that I’ve come to know as anxiety. Did he get it right?
I cried, I swore to him that it was the most perfect gift ever, and I would cherish it forever. I was quite young and prone to drama. But I meant every word.

I would later learn that the watch chewed up much of his monthly paycheck as a newly minted lawyer. More tears.

Fast forward to several years ago, when we had rushed into a Philadelphia theater because we were late – always my fault. And in the course of shedding my coat, the pocket watch had fallen onto the carpeted floor of the theater. When I took off my coat back at home, I realized its absence.

It was long past closing time at the theater. I was devastated. Vic and I both agreed that we would never see that beloved gift again. And we tried to make one another feel better. No luck on that.

The next morning, I made my call to the theater. I got about as far as “I lost a necklace last night in row F,” when a cheery voice on the other end of the phone asked me to describe it.

I did.

“We’ve got it,” she told me. “An usher found it and handed it in.”

I was uncharacteristically speechless. And then I screamed and said something incoherent.

I told the box office manager I loved her. I asked her the name of the usher and explained that I wanted to meet him. I planned to give him a generous reward, of course.

Later that day when we met, this quiet usher firmly refused our reward, saying something about being glad he could help.

In that moment, it almost seemed that all the meanness and greed and nastiness in the world momentarily vanished. That usher’s honesty and his link to the loveliest gift from the dearest person in my life seemed transformative.

I often remember that usher, and I like to believe that my husband’s gift was destined to come back to me. That such happenings are not random. I hold on to that feeling, reminding myself that this watch is far more than just a marker of time.

This meaningful gift is a symbol of the seconds, minutes and hours of a marriage, and that is the greatest gift of all for an ordinary couple who learned that giving – and life-altering moments – come in so many unexpected ways.

 

Sally Friedman can be reached at sfriedman@sjmagazine.net.

December 2017
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