Memories live in the most unlikely places... in a scent, an old t-shirt, a teacup.
In my case, it's my father's face. Not the one he was born with, but the one he wore on his wrist.
The face was on a Timex, a circa-1950s, "It takes a licking" classic. It had a thick black strap and it lived on my father's arm from as far back in my childhood as I could remember. It was a gift on his wedding day from my mom, who had an inscription etched on the polished brass casing on the back.
That watch was so like my engineer dad -- plain, unfussy, a little nerdy. Maybe it was my pint-sized vantage point, but it's starring role in so many of my earliest mental images of him -- weekdays with his starched, white, business shirts; weekends as he tinkered with some gizmo or other -- made it somehow the face of my father... the strong symbol of his very dad-ness.
There it was on vacation when the two of us got toppled in the surf and his arm reached in to pluck me out.
It was there when he pointed out the neat gadgets around his office to my brother and me.
I remember its reassuring presence on my first ride on the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
It was on his wrist when he obsessively took Super 8 movies and snapped pictures with the Instamatic.
It was visible from behind the newspaper as he read in his "dad" chair every night.
And I imagined it on open-house nights at my school when he used to leave funny drawings for me to find in my desk the next morning.
Eventually, fashion caught up with my dad. The 1960s became the '70s, and he changed with the times. He grew sideburns and got wireframe glasses. He wore plaid suits and jeans. He traded the comb-over for (egad) hair plugs. And with these groovy changes came the retirement of the old Timex. A teenager myself at the time, I embraced (and laughed at) this dad 2.0. The memory of the geek watch went with all things deemed old school: discarded as outdated and forgotten.
Shortly after my dad died, my stepmother and I began the process of going through his things. It hadn't been long since he'd last been in the house. His clothes were still hanging in the closet and the rooms bore his presence in that way that makes you feel like a lost loved one could round a corner at any moment. Yet his absence felt so big, and I felt so disconnected from the man who had been my dad for more than 40 years.
But sitting in a box, staring out from beneath the abandoned gold chain and the pricey designer timepiece was the face I remembered. It was scratched, a little cloudy, and had a dilapidated strap that was slightly frayed from years of use. But the old John Cameron Swayze slogan proved to be true. And with a few winds of the dial, my memories fired up with the familiar "tick tick tick" of a sound long forgotten. That old Timex unleashed a film reel of memories -- more than all of our photo albums and home movies combined. There was nothing in my father's possessions that could bring him closer.
Dad's watch goes with me everywhere these days, strapped on to my wrist the same way he put it on all those years ago. It's hopelessly old fashioned, several sizes too big and, unlike any new watch, it has to be constantly wound to work. But the fact is it does way more than keep time.
It ensures that every day when I look down at my wrist, I see the face that belonged to my dad.