Granddad’s Pocket Watch

If you get to really know your grandparents, count yourself lucky. If you get to know all four of them, you are extra lucky. I was fortunate to know my mother’s parents. Both of my dad’s parents passed away well before I was born, but I do have memories of them, from pictures, family stories, and from one treasured item. Here is my story of that special link to my grandfather.

The tall man stood a long time on the sidewalk, looking at the gold pocket watch in the store window. He had stood there before, looking, wishing. But on this day he went inside and asked the clerk to see the watch up close. It felt good in his hand. It would cost him a week’s wages, but he wanted that watch. He had been saving as he could for some time. The next week he went back and bought it.

“Illinois” was the brand name printed boldly on the face – a working man’s watch. He had his initials, “JG”, engraved fancifully on the back of the case. For a man of his circumstance, it was an extravagance, but he was glad he had bought it. So am I.

Born in Northern Ireland in another century, my grandfather had served in the army of Queen Victoria during the Boer War in South Africa. Had he been a brave soldier? I think so; I hope so. Injured in the war, he was returned home to recuperate in a hospital. There he met the nurse who would become the grandmother I never go to know. I see them there, her holding the hand of the gallant soldier, and falling in love.

Some years and three children later, I see my grandfather at the rail of a ship approaching New York harbor and Ellis Island. More bravery and courage to strike off for a new land, a new life. West to Pittsburgh he went where a cousin promised him a job. He made a home and summoned his wife and children to this new life too. Other children, including my father, were born here in Pennsylvania. Grandfather worked many jobs to provide for his wife and family, never wealthy by any standard.

I see him mourning for the wife who had nursed his wounds and bore his children when she died all too young. I think of his happiness when he was later married again, this time to the “grandmother” I did get to know. Life was good then, good enough to buy a fine gentlemanly gold pocket watch.

Grandfather too died years before my birth, so I never got to know him. He didn’t leave much of worldly wealth, but he left memories to his children, and a few objects of at least sentimental value. My Aunt, his youngest daughter, gave me his watch when I graduated from college. “You have his name,” she said, “you should have his watch too.”

I reach in my pocket for the old Illinois gold watch. It feels good in my hand.