Undoubtedly, Dad would have left his assets to them, though perhaps he’d set aside his chess set, or a family photo album, or his first wedding band for one of us? But as months passed and no letter from an attorney arrived at at either of our doorsteps, we reluctantly accepted that he was dead and that was that. No souvenirs from the gift shop.
Truthfully, in the weeks after his death, I was distracted. Of course I thought of him and grieved his loss, but I was in the ninth month of my first pregnancy. In fact, six weeks to the day after his memorial service, I gave birth to my son Teddy.
Since having the baby, my phone calls with my pediatrician mother have become even more frequent, and during a recent one, she casually asked if I wanted her old Rolex. It was broken, but she would pay to have it fixed. I told her thank you but no.
Despite Mom’s unyielding encouragement, my interest in her ongoing jewelry collection has been for the most part to mockingly inquire about upgrades—a reference to her habit of trading in one of her current gold/diamond pieces for store credit at Kay’s, and then paying a bit more to get a larger, shinier version, culminating eventually I suppose with the acquisition of The Great Star of Africa.
“What are you doing for a watch in the mean time?” I asked. “Upgrade?”
“Yeah,” she said, a bit deflated, realizing I was making fun of her.
Four years ago, I wouldn’t have shown such restraint. At that time, when both the price of gold and my husband Matt’s and my need for a new computer were at all-time highs, I sold a menagerie of my mom’s jeweled hand-me-downs for cash.
But Matt’s and my careers are in better places now. (That is to say, they actually exist.) If we really needed a new computer, we could hopefully make it happen without pawning family heirlooms.
I took it in my hands and examined it. I knew it well. She’d worn it for my entire life, or at least it felt that way. It had been a gift, and on the back was an inscription:
Dan was Mom’s first boyfriend after my parents’ divorce. I remembered him. He was sweet and easygoing—perhaps to a fault.
That night, I Googled the watch’s make and model. On eBay, the same one was selling from anywhere between two and three thousand dollars.
During Mom’s following visit, a mere six weeks later, she asked if I’d sold it. I told her no, not yet, but that it didn’t seem to be keeping time very well.
“You have to wear it, Ame! Or, if you’re not going to wear it, you have to shake it everyday so it winds.” She reset the time and date and handed it back to me. I slipped it on my wrist and tightened the clasp, heeding her directive.
A few hours later, I was changing Teddy’s diaper, holding his feet with my left hand (my classy, Rolex hand) when I realized that he wasn’t kicking and trying to roll over like he usually did. Instead, he was reaching for the gleaming object on my wrist. “He likes the watch, Mom,” I shouted to her in the next room.
“Oh yeah, Ame. He loves mine.” Her upgrade was to a diamond-faced version.
A few days later, I was on a walk with my neighbor when she noticed the watch. Embarrassed to be caught wearing such a name brand luxury item, I quickly explained its origins and that I was planning on selling it. “No, you should keep it,” she said. “And wear it.”
Until this moment, I can’t say I’d considered this option. The watch was my mother’s. It suited her and her life as a successful doctor, as a conservative Republican, and as a well-to-do older woman with a collection of Christmas sweaters a month deep. Our worlds couldn’t be farther apart.
But a few days after dropping Mom at the airport, I was still wearing it. Matt noticed.
“It stops running if you don’t,” I told him, glancing down at it. “Plus, Teddy likes it.”
He nodded slowly, lower lip turned out—holding back a further comment.
Perhaps because it’s one of those ubiquitous worries (“Oh no, I’m turning into my mother!”), or perhaps because I do see a lot of her in me, I’ve held my mom’s peculiarities at a safe, laughable distance. But, of course, she could be a lot worse.
Sure, she dresses in a gold-and-diamond suit of armor, drinks Diet Coke for breakfast, and regularly spouts Fox News talking points.
She clearly loves me beyond description, she adores Teddy, and despite seeming to mostly use Matt as means to get to her favorite LA delicatessen, I know she loves him too.
I could make a good argument for holding onto it as a keepsake, as a guaranteed souvenir, unlike the ones I’ll never have from my dad, but perhaps it’s something else.
Maybe Mom and I have more in common than I thought.
Maybe I’ve exaggerated our differences over the years, and below the surface, my mom is as compassionate as I believe myself to be and likewise, I’m just as stubborn as she is. Maybe, too, she simply can’t be summed up so easily. Maybe those years of fighting unsupportive peers to become a doctor during a time when not many women were doing so and coping with a very public failed marriage hardened her in a way that I can only tangentially understand.
Or maybe, like Teddy, I just like the watch.