#197 In which our hero receives a most unexpected gift in the mail.
Something rather cool, and a little spooky, happened to me last week.
But first, a little background. My father had two brothers and two sisters. Everyone is gone now except my Uncle Max (the youngest) and my Aunt Irene (the oldest). I’ve only met Irene a couple of times, she lives out on the west coast and has never been anything but nasty to me anyway. But we used to visit Max all the time.
When my grandfather (that is, my father’s father) was still alive, we’d go to visit fairly often. He lived in a dirty little coal-mining down outside of Pittsburgh, and it took about two hours to drive there. Mostly it was just Dad and me. We’d visit with Pop-pop, who was (by the time I knew him) a shuffling old blind man. But he always had pound cake in the cupboards and orange soda in the fridge, so it was cool. Dad and Pop-pop would sit at the table, Dad telling his father about the latest happenings with his kids, Pop-pop smoking his pipe. I’d often go and play along the nearby canal or watch Pop-pop's gigantic console TV.
My Uncle Max lived in the house directly next door. His son was a couple years older than me, but we’d hang out sometimes. Sometimes Max would come over, but usually we’d visit Pop-pop, then go next door and visit Max and his wife, my Aunt Dee.
When Dad died, Max really made the effort to keep in touch with me. But, I was 24, living on my own, and was busy with lots of other things, like my crappy job and my not-yet-out-of-the-closet live-in girlfriend. So I didn’t do much to reciprocate. I suspect that Max promised Dad that he’d take care of me.
It’s been 14 years since my father died and, sadly, I haven’t done much to keep in touch with Max. And Max is really my only connection with Dad’s side of the family… I don’t talk to any of my cousins on that side. Not out of maliciousness, I just… don’t, y’know?
Anyway, I do send Christmas cards, and that usually ignites some new back and forth communication. Max sent me a letter, with his email address. He complimented me on my family, and told me that my father would be proud of me. He always says that, and at this point I don’t really know if it’s just a platitude, or he really means it. I choose to believe the latter.
I emailed him a month or so ago, and never heard back. So, I did my yearly family duty, I guess.
But last week I got a small package in the mail from Max. In the past he’s sent me articles clipped from the newspaper that he thought I’d find interesting (often about comic books--Max is a big flea-market guy, and he wants me to give him all my comics so he can sell them at a profit; to which I say, um, no thanks). But this was a padded envelope and was surprisingly heavy. I had no idea what it could be. I opened it up, and there was a short letter inside. And something else.
My father’s stop watch.
CRAIG: Enclosed you will find a stopwatch your father gave to me several years ago. I was cleaning some drawers and found it--forgot all about the stopwatch. Took it to a jeweler--it is no good. On the back of the stopwatch you will see your father's name. Thought you would like to have it. Tell you wife we said hello and give Lilly [sic] a hug from her uncle Max.To see the significance of this stopwatch, you have to understand how important sports were to my father. He managed to go to college on a football scholarship and he was deeply involved with all sorts of sports from that time forward. He refereed middle school football and high school basketball. He ran the clock for high school volleyball games. He umpired baseball of all levels. He announced the high school football games. I spent many cold fall evenings up in the tiny announcer’s booth precariously perched above the bleachers. Long after my dad died they torn down that crappy booth and replaced it with a roomier, better insulated one. And they dedicated it to the memory of my father.
And, he helped time countless track meets with the stopwatch I was now holding in my hand. His name was crudely scratched into the back… probably to assure that it came back right before he lent it out to someone he didn’t know very well.
Strangely enough, I had been considering buying a stopwatch to time the radio spots I’ve been writing recently. I don’t know why I hadn’t just bought one, it’s not like they’re expensive. But I put it off. Now I didn’t have to.
Funny thing, though… even though my Uncle Max said the watch was “no good,” it works perfectly for me.