COLUMN: The old man’s watch


Since It was my fourth trip to the watch repair shop, I didn’t have high hopes. I’m sure the little Russian man who owned it would tell me, like he had on my three previous visits, that he couldn’t find the parts to get the wristwatch running – thanks to Covid. Besides, it was nothing but an old, inexpensive, self-winding Seiko. The cost to repair it would probably be more than the watch was worth. But that didn’t matter to me, because as far as I’m concerned, this timepiece is priceless. It belonged to my father.

Dad only had a couple of wristwatches during his life. For the longest time he had a silver Omega timepiece that he wore every waking hour. As a child I can recall seeing it on his wrist when I visited him at work. I remember him diligently winding it almost every day. He revered Omega watches – so much so that he gave me one when I graduated from college. I don’t know what ever happened to that wonderful old timepiece of his – I suppose it quit keeping “good time” as they used to say – but for whatever reason, the Seiko replaced it.

Even though it’s not expensive, this is a nice watch. The old Seiko has more style than most watches I see nowadays. A clean, gray face contrasts smartly with the silver bars marking the hours. A silver and gold stretch band completed the look. Classy.

Like the Omega, the Seiko became a part of my father. I can still see him taking off that watch before we would play golf – he would either place it in the top pocket of his golf bag or drop it in his street shoes when we changed into our golf spikes. He checked the time on his wrist so much that it became a nervous habit.

Of course, all his wristwatch did was give the time and the date. You couldn’t check emails (because there was no such thing), look at photographs or talk on it. At that time something like that would’ve been considered science fiction – now it’s a common occurrence.

Sorry about that tangent. Not too long ago, my sister found dad’s Seiko in an old jewelry box and gave it to me. And now I was walking in the watch repair shop again, hoping that the Russian had finally gotten the Seiko running. Unfortunately, the moment our eyes locked, he began shaking his head. The fourth time was not the charm.

The little man began speaking before I got to the counter, saying, “No, no. Sorry, I can’t find part to fix. I search. I try. I sorry. I know it your Papa’s watch.”

I hated to hear that, but it wasn’t surprising. It was like your doctor telling you that you have high cholesterol when your diet is mostly cheeseburgers. I nodded and said, “That’s OK. Just give it back to me. I have plans for it.”

I decided to hang the watch from our Christmas tree every holiday season – a unique ornament that would honor my father. So he put the Seiko in a small manila envelope, apologized again and handed it to me. I thanked him, walked to the truck, then took the timepiece out to give it a final look before I took it home and stored it with our Christmas decorations. I even gave in to a strange urge to put it on my wrist – why, I still don’t know. I held the timepiece away from me and looked at its face.

Almost immediately, the second hand, which had been frozen for years, began moving smoothly. It had come back to life. I stared at the watch crystal in disbelief as a wave of goosebumps washed over me. I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t alone in the truck.

The watch has been on my left wrist for several months now, keeping “good time” just like it did decades before. Honestly, it runs a little bit slow, so I have to adjust the minute hand every day, but considering its age, that’s all right. At my age, I run a little slow myself.

I’m sure there are people who read this and believe that when the little Russian repairman opened the back of the watch, he somehow unfroze the mechanism – a convenient coincidence. Believe that if you want – but I don’t.

I know what I felt that day in my truck when the watch began ticking again. Like someone was with me, telling me to keep it on my wrist, telling me there was life in it yet. I know who it was.

The original owner.

Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

Joe Hobby is a barbecue-loving comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian-Writer.