Keeping Time


About 10 years ago, when he was in his mid-70s, my father bought me a Timex sports watch with a gray plastic band and a pale gray face with a lavender border. It didn’t have GPS, but it did have a lap function and a stopwatch. It had other features as well, which I never discovered, having no need of them. Last year, it was still operating, after a fashion, but it had grown old. It kept time, but I couldn’t reset the hour, as one does twice a year, going into and coming out of daylight savings, because the buttons for that no longer worked. The stopwatch and lap buttons did nothing either, so I often ran without it. In Spain, a custom still much observed is to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a death, but I hardly know exactly when my watch gave up the ghost. Or if it really did, since I don’t know exactly what constitutes death for a watch. Mine was clearly on the blink, but even when it no longer worked as a stopwatch, it still ticked. It marked time. So perhaps it wasn’t dead, though even in death, I’ve heard, there can be remnants of life, as with fingernails and hair that continue to grow after a person’s last breath.

I would sometimes still put the watch on when I went for a run, although it was more ornamental than useful. Occasionally, just from habit, I would press the stopwatch button. But to no avail: the watch did not respond.

Then one day, the watch became responsive under my fingers. What was this? It was as if the watch were regaining consciousness and sitting up and looking around. I was able to change both the hour and the minutes. But when I tried to set the correct time, I punched in a wrong one instead, and could not again get a reaction from the watch. “It’s me, watch!” I pleaded. To no avail. So I put it away in a drawer.

Do I need a new sports watch? I do not. The sports watch served me well for the years I was learning to pace myself when I ran and to push myself when I raced. But I no longer calculate my times on particular stretches of road or compare my performance on different days. All I need now is to know if I’ve been out long enough to return home. Almost any timepiece will serve. Perhaps even better is to listen to my body and obey it, as my watch through the years of training gave me the confidence to do.

Yet I do eye the sports watches in the store windows. Oh, for the days gone by! I miss them. And oh, for the past, I think, when remembering my late father. He, like the watch he gave me, served me well. He lasted beyond my need for a father, though I did not know that before he died, a little more than a year ago. He was a patient and kind instructor when I was young and a model and inspiration when I was grown. His memory accompanies me as I contemplate growing old. The Day of the Dead is November 2. I think about my father. I’m okay without him because I was so fortunate with him. Give up the ghost? My father? Not as long as I’m alive and able to remember him. Gentle instruction, a model to emulate, and calm comfort in times of uncertainty or fear. What more could you need? Nothing. What more could you ask for? That’s easy. To again share a beer, share a laugh, play a game of anagrams, of course, but also to do together the repair jobs for me that he never found too mundane, and to do with him the tasks I miss from my last visit home to him: to choose with my dad the clothes he’ll wear and help him dress. Choose the shoes for the day and help get them on. Put my hands out to help him up and into his day. As for how to live the day, he was never at a loss.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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