I never had a watch as a child. Kids today have real watches before they go to school. I never had one.

My first watch was a fake watch that came in a toy nurses’ kit my baby sister got for Christmas. I remember that the box contained a stethoscope, thermometer, note pad and pencil and some candy pills. When she became bored with it all, I ate the candy pills, strapped on the watch and wore it to school.

I showed it to Alan Powers and John Desnoyer.

“My sister has that. It came with candy pills. That’s a girls’ watch,” Alan said.

John added, “Yep. It’s a girls’ watch.”

That was in the fourth grade. Years later when Alan and I were double dating in high school, he would say in front of our dates: “Ask Jerry what time it is. He’s got a watch. Show them your watch, Jerry.”

He thought that was so funny.  I know now that I never really liked him. He became the manager of a grocery store. That made me happy.

Nobody needed a watch in my neighborhood. There were clocks everywhere. Every store had a clock, and there was a really big one on the sidewalk outside Kolen’s Jewelry Store on Grand Avenue. And then there were the hourly church bells.

My father had an old pocket watch that he would glance at now and then at the supper table, when he was home. When he died in 1940, my mother gave it to my brother Matt, Pop’s oldest son, when he came home from the Navy in Hawaii for the funeral.

After 40 years had passed, we got together in San Diego. I asked about the watch. “It’s probably at the bottom of the harbor at Pearl, along with the Arizona.”

Black Irish humor.

Upon arriving at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, we had a drill sergeant whom we called “Smiling Jack.” On the first day, Jack stood us up in the 109-degree heat and told us: “Ladies, those boxes in front of you are to put y’all civilian belongs in and send home to Mama with y’all lace panties and jewelry, including watches. Write the address on the box, and we’ll collect em’ and ship em’ out.”

A huge boy from Minnesota, who later fainted from the heat, asked the first stupid question of the day. “How will we know what time it is?”

I will never forget Smiling Jack’s reply.

“I have a watch, young lady, and my time is y’all time.”

Before we parted eight weeks later, we learned that Jack had impregnated a Mexican girl who worked in the P.X., and her brother wanted to kill him. The Air Force saved his life by sending him to active duty in Korea. He probably died there. Justice.

Then, at one point as an adult, perhaps to make up for a timeless life, I started collecting watches of all kinds, cheap ones, really. She, who only wears them as jewelry, bought me a good one I still have.

Friends and family have given me watches with colored bands and complicated faces that only a pilot could read. A few moments ago, I found them all in a sock drawer where I had buried them after growing bored with their sameness.

Then this year, something happened that brightened the asphalt skies of winter and illuminated the crusty early stage mid-life years of my days.

My California sunshine daughters, fearing I was slipping into a permanent winter of discontent, presented me at Christmas with a series 5 Apple watch. Oh, Lordy!

For those of my age, it changes everything. It’s always on, reading my blood pressure when I’m watching Trump’s rallies. At night I charge it on a tiny white charge plate, and then at 3 a.m. I wake and put it on, and all through the night I glance at it to observe that it’s minus 14 degrees outside. Nothing induces sleep like that.

I would describe the many faces it presents, but since I got it I’ve learned that I’m a latecomer to the fashion, and that most of you already know all about it. Teenagers have it, nurses in operating rooms wear it, undercover cops and felons are wearing it. When I watch the news in the evening, I keep my eye peeled for celebrities who wear one.

I know. I’m like a 9-year-old who has found a new toy. I’m back at Christmas in the ’40s wearing my baby sister’s nurses’ watch without the stethoscope and candy pills. But now it’s real, the numbers move. It has not only Mickey Mouse, who talks, but Minnie on the next page telling me the time, even at 4 in the morning when it’s minus 14 degrees.

I wish I could go back in time and show the guys. Go ahead, Alan, ask me what time it is. Go ahead.

 

J.P. is a Waterville writer. 


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