I’ve kept my grandmother’s watch tucked away in a jewelry box for years. I found it on a visit to my father’s house late last year and brought it home with me to Boulder.
At a local watch repair shop (how old-fashioned!), they took apart the watch, cleaned the hard plastic face, and checked its inner workings. They returned it to me in fine working order — in fact, if I had wound it, it would have probably worked just fine, the elegant young woman (bedecked in watches, thick golden rings and diamonds) told me.
My grandmother must have wound the watch every morning, as I do now, about ten times. Once the watch band broke, I presume that she wore the golden four-pointed star around her neck, hanging from the braided silver chain I wear now.
I’ve worn it a few times, as an old-fashioned accessory that changes the look of an outfit immediately, making it somehow more eclectic. I can hear the ticking of the watch, like a fast-beating heart. When I wear it, I end up fiddling with the winding knob, checking the time upside down, and showing it to everyone — “Look!” I say. “This is my grandma’s watch!” Her name is inscribed on the face of the watch in fine black letters; I point this out to them and hold out the watch for my listener to examine.
While I was having the watch fixed, my dad was on vacation, on a cruise boat in the middle of the Pacific. I pondered briefly what my grandmother would think about that: I could continue to communicate with him by cell phone. I could call; I could send text messages. I could do this on devices we use now mostly to tell time, while reading the news and sending off messages on apps that sound like bird sounds or something totally unrelated to being in touch.
I have not touched my grandmother in years, and yet we are still connected, despite all these technological changes, despite the fact that my grandmother is gone. I look like her, carrying on her genetic code for her dark hair, slight stature, skinny and small-breasted.
My mom looked at me the other day while I was visiting for Passover, and asked rhetorically, how come I didn’t get the big breasts from her side of the family? Part of that may be that I haven’t had kids, but it’s also the palimpsest of the family on my dad’s side.
And while my mom always says I look nothing like her, the ladies at the hairdresser’s where I always go when I’m home visiting (thanks, Elaine!) thoroughly disagreed: Look! they cried, when she said as much after my haircut last weekend. She has your smile, your eyes, your curls, your laugh. I will have the look of my mother’s mother, too, as I age.
I am a single child, and yet I am the mingling of the genetic river of all these people. I carry these physical reminders of them, and sometimes more intangible ones — more than just my grandmother’s watch.