Sometime after Lea passed away, Dad gave me his watch. When I say his watch, it’s the watch I associate with a huge man in his 40s, with arms so brown, there used to be talk about him being partly indigenous.
It was worn by a smoker. A man who used to come home from work in a uniform so crisp, clean and well pressed, it could have been worn the next day. Who used to sit down to dinner, demand the best (from the cleanest cutlery to a well-prepared meal) and enforce discipline in the way it was delivered in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade of our city.
A man who is as punctual as Father Time himself.
When I write his watch, I mean it’s the one from my earliest memories. This man was leaner, straighter. He could yell louder than the breadth of a home, polish shoes so the gleam would reflect the backyard sun, dictate an entire family proceeding like it was a small army and the kids were his platoon.
This watch reminds me of summer. Of times spent outside, under the sprinkler. Sitting on an ant’s nest out the front of number 15, and being lifted into arms so strong, I knew the insects would fall away despite the stinging. He wore it while cooking the weekly barbie, where the band would absorb the scent of smoke and cooked meat, although sometimes he’d take it off, when the day had been hot. The mark where the watch had sat left a white loop against the tan of his skin.
The face of his watch reminds me of trouble. Of always being in it, whether it was because I couldn’t control my moods, I couldn’t cope with the oppression of a big family event, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed when it (perhaps) should have been! And in the era of corporal management, the watch band reminds me of the adage ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ It happened, it probably needed to happen — the smacks, the more physical version of discipline — because it rang true to the times. The watch is all about ‘those times’, when families were big, children weren’t expected to reason, and some kids just had the natural tendency to over think. And over speak.
The band of the watch reminds me of consistency. The man of routine, of total belief in the importance of tradition. The family holiday by the beach — halcyon days, really — the sunday lunches, the dogma of Christmas, the application of punctuality, rules, the striving for perfection. The bloke who has always been there, through physical and mental health issues, through eye operations, 2 YO legs in full plaster, miscarriage, marriage, turbulent times, joyful arrivals, joyful departures on trips, adventures. The man who has stayed, through demise, death, arguments, anger, the happiest times, the moments of severe darkness, the constant unpredictability of a family so large, the only thing that might have stayed the same was the thing on his wrist.
This watch reminds me of an incredible man. A man who struggles to cope with change, but finds his way eventually, despite having ‘a fat stomach and being a slow walker. So, so slow’, lol.
This watch reminds me of times I’ve thought he was the tallest fella in the world, a super hero firefighter, amazing. It also keeps watch over the moments I’ve hated him, with every cell of my core, when we’ve shouted, pointed, yelled and cried within our personal griefs.
Do you know that this watch has a tiny medal of St Christopher linked into its side? He’s not Catholic, but Mum gave it to him when he wore the watch on the Nella Dan, an icebreaker that sailed due south from Oz on a fire-safety journey to Macquarie Is. And that he bought the watch in the 60s, wore it through the 70s and 80s in some of the most devastating and dangerous fires in our city? And that he has (about) thirtysomething watches, because, yeah, he’s obsessed with timepieces? (And other iThings).
In the year after Lea died, Dad gave me this watch. He knows I value punctuality (unlike some siblings). He knows that we’re alike in a lot of ways and that I need a timepiece to be accurate, informative, precise. Perhaps he knows that it’s not fashionable, but that when I look into its face, the memories of a family’s life will continue to tick along.
Maybe that’s what it’s all about.