Watch out: Sentimental holiday story ahead

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This is my late dad’s watch.

He wore it every day for years and years and years – weekends, too, if memory serves – and out of the blue one day in the mid-1980s he gave it to me.  It wasn’t exactly a Hallmark moment (no offense, dad)…he’d simply gotten a much fancier commemorative watch as a gift from the bank he worked at for 100 years, and my other two brothers weren’t around that day…so I got the watch.  I was psyched.  

And within a week, I destroyed it. 

It’s all a bit blurry looking back now, but I was probably about 20 years-old when dad bequeathed his golden timepiece to me, and a few days later, having never really regularly worn a watch before (not even a cutting-edge Casio digital watch in junior high), I stepped into the shower with the watch on my wrist. And I totally drowned the thing.  The face turned a sickening green within minutes.  So many years of tick tick ticking came to a screeching halt.  

I freaked out and took dad’s watch to a fancy jeweler in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, a.k.a “the jewelry district,” to see if it was salvageable.  When the jeweler told me it would cost $300 to fix the watch, I was, shall we say, taken aback.  

I hid the waterlogged watch in a bottom drawer and hoped dad wouldn’t notice. 

Busy with work and seven kids, he didn’t seem to.  

And it stayed there in that bottom drawer for years.

But…a few years later, finally making a little money, I came across dad’s watch again one day while rummaging for socks, and I thought…hmmm, I have a few bucks in the bank now, maybe I should get this thing fixed.  

Walking down Washington Street on a cold December day towards the same fancy jeweler from a few years back, $300 in cash in my Velcro wallet, I noticed “The Swiss American Watch Hospital” sign on a side street.  Hmm.  Never saw that place before.  I went in.

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“It’ll cost 40 bucks to fix.  Be ready Friday,” the Swiss American Watch surgeon told me.

It’s a Christmas miracle!  (And they’ll have a customer for life in me.)

They fixed dad’s watch, and I put it in the bottom drawer again, this time to preserve it, not to hide it.  Years later I made sure to wear it at my wedding.  Someday I’m gonna give this thing to one of my kids, I thought.  

And after my dad passed in December of 2004, I started wearing it again.  

Until the Philadelphia Incident.

My first real business trip as an actual adult was to Philadelphia, in December, 2005.  I was working for a bank — just like my dad…how weird — and I was sent to Philly for a series of internal meetings.  I was by no means an experienced business traveler (which I’ve since learned is an art form), so when I checked in to the Loews Hotel on Market Street I never imagined I’d be checking out two days later without the watch.  

I left the damned thing on the nightstand, and being stressed out and callow I didn’t even realize it until I got home a few days later.

Ugh.

Ugh ugh ugh I suck.

And then — and I am not making this up – the hotel manager called my 11-pound work cell phone to let me know he had my watch. 

He had my dad’s watch.  

“Housekeeping found it,” he said, “and I knew it was special to someone.”  Turns out the manager was a serious “watch guy.”  And he told me that dad’s watch wasn’t particularly valuable or rare, but that back in the 1960s this brand – this “Benrus” – was pretty cool.  Sort of like a groovy Swatch.  

(Turns out JFK wore the brand!)

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Mr. Hotel Manager clearly recognized the true meaning of the phrase “sentimental value,” so he tracked me down and Fed-Exed the thing back to me the next day, on his dime.  Another Christmas miracle!

I’m still speechless, 15+ years later.  More brand-loyalty earned forever.

Since then, the watch has rested in a special place in the dining room curio cabinet, next to hand-me-down Hummels and the Matchbox VW camper and an inexplicably Dutch-themed coffee creamer…special keepsakes from my kids’ grandparents on both sides…

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...and at some point, someday, maybe I’ll give my dad’s watch to my son Evan or his brother, Ethan.  And I’ll hope they’ll be more responsible than I ever was.  Or at least hope they never take a business trip to Philadelphia — or shower again.

(Here’s hoping for your Christmas miracle this year, my friends.)

4 thoughts on “Watch out: Sentimental holiday story ahead

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