’Til the End of Time
My father's talking watches kept him tethered to this world
On the top shelf of the fridge in our house in Nanaimo, behind the jars of capers and anchovies, sit two atomic-powered talking men’s wristwatches. If the fridge door is open on the quarter hour, you will hear the watches announce in stereo the time and date, in deep, penetrating digital male voices: “The time is now 10:45 p.m., Thursday, February 16th, 2017.” “The time is now 11 o’clock p.m., Thursday, February 16th, 2017.”
The watches belonged to my father, Manny, who passed away several weeks ago at the age of ninety-four. In his later years, he succumbed to dementia-fuelled shopping sprees in the mail-order catalogues of what I called “elder gizmos”—those unique products designed to attract housebound geriatrics who are susceptible to the allure of illuminated toilet seats and headbands that dissolve brain tumours. My father purchased many such items from these catalogues, but they all paled beside his talking watches. He truly loved them and was wearing one when he died. If he had not left instructions to be cremated, I would have buried it with him in his coffin.
My father didn’t have many belongings when he passed away: everything worth keeping fit in just one large suitcase. Besides the talking watches, there were only some photo albums, classic car trophies and his Congressional Medal of Honor. In his nursing home room in New Jersey, he spent his days in pull-ups, sweatpants and sweaters—easy on-and-off clothing for a guy who could not dress himself. He no longer read, took things apart, went to garage sales, or met his friends at the Goffle Grill because they had all passed away by then. His only excursions into the greater world were to the hospital emergency ward as he began to suffer through repeated falls and increasing health troubles. The talking watches, I imagine, kept him tethered to this world, regular reminders of a life he was drifting further and further away from.
Toward the end, as he lost interest in conversation, visits with my father became visits with his constant companion, the digital time-keeping voice. “The time is, the time is, the time is” was beginning to drive my wife and me nuts. But during meals in the dining room of the nursing home, the other geriatric residents would marvel at the thing. “Where can I get that?” they’d ask. My father was only too happy to share his elder gizmo catalogues with everyone.
I didn’t know what to do with my father’s suitcase that first evening I brought it home. It seemed so sad that his possessions had been reduced to such a pitiful end. For sixty years he and my mother, children of the Great Depression, had shared a large threestorey house they stuffed to the rafters with a vast, eclectic accumulation of antiques, junk, Jaguar car parts, cameras, radios, books, clothing, kitchen gadgets and more. My mother had saved every handbag and pair of shoes she had ever bought. She had kept every bill, every paycheque stub, every receipt, every Christmas and birthday card. Boxes and boxes of them. My father refused to throw out even old balls of string, used nails, wire, screws, nuts and bolts, hinges, doorknobs, decades-old phone books. It took me a solid month, working day and night, to empty their house for sale.
Now I stared at my father’s forlorn suitcase. I finally put it away in the hall closet.
Later that night in bed, my wife nudged me awake.
“I hear it,” she said.
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Manny’s watch. Where is it?”
“In the hall closet, buried deep in the suitcase,” I told her.
We both started laughing.
“There are two of them,” I said. “Two? No wonder it’s so loud. Why did he have two of them?”
“Why did a man who rarely sets foot outside buy six pairs of black plastic shoes?” I said.
I got out of bed and carried the suitcase to my office at the other end of the apartment. Thirteen or so minutes later we could still hear the watches. “What are we going to do?” my wife asked. “It’s like a horror movie!” She laughed again. “Put your earplugs in,” I said. “I’ll figure something out tomorrow.”
Jeff Shucard was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He attended the Minneapolis School of Art (now MCAD) and Franconia College. Since then he has worked as a teacher and musician. He lives in Nanaimo. Read more of his work at geist.com.