Jane reached into the box for the last little item, tucked into the corner, almost missed in the dim basement light except for the hint of gold caught out of the corner of her eye. A pocket watch – where had this come from? She turned it over in her hands several times, admiring the bas-relief design of a man with a boy on his lap. It looked like the man might be telling a story, or maybe giving the younger generation a lesson in living.
On the back was engraved ‘JM love AL’. JM? Jock McDougall? Had this been Jock’s? But who’s AL? And why had this person given Jock the watch? And when? And why had Jane not known of it? Jane’s mind was spinning, no thoughts forming clearly. She didn’t think she and Jock had had any secrets, but this watch was something he’d evidently kept from her. Almost five years of marriage before his death, and he hadn’t wanted her to know about a watch! There must have been a reason, but now there was no way to know. Jane put the watch in her pocket, thinking she’d ask Jock’s mother, or maybe his best friend Jim, if they knew anything about it.
For right now, Jane was determined to get through the sorting of these boxes. After the accident, she hadn’t had the heart to touch any of Jock’s things, it had been just too hard to face living without him. Eventually, though, she’d realized she needed to move on with life, not erasing Jock but not living in the past either. It wouldn’t be healthy for the children to have a mother constantly pining for a father they didn’t know and who could not be part of their every-day. But the best she could do at that time was to allow her mother and mother-in-law to pack Jock’s things into boxes and store them in the basement.
That had been 10 years ago. Now, because of a genealogy project at school, the children were asking questions about their father. Not that they hadn’t seen pictures, and been told stories, and knew that he’d loved them from the minute he knew they were expected; but they wanted to have some of this things. So Jane was looking through the stored mementos and books to see if she could select items that would help to bring their father alive for them.
Here was his high school letter jacket, and his soccer captain’s armband, track and field medals, report cards (some of the remarks from his teachers might not be a good thing for Mick to read just yet), his high school diploma, university and medical degrees, the box and bowl he made in shop class. As Jane started to put them back into the box to take them upstairs, she noticed a notebook, beige cardboard cover, that had blended in with the bottom of the box. Pulling it out, and flipping through the pages, Jane thought it looked like a diary. Jock had never kept a diary!! Setting the little notebook aside to have it on top, Jane repacked the box, and took everything upstairs.
Settling down with a cup of tea, Jane pulled the watch from her pocket, and spent some more time exploring it. Interesting – here in a brighter light, she could see a little catch on the inside of the cover. Pressing it, a second compartment opened like a locket, and a little piece of paper fell out. When Jane retrieved the paper from the floor, she discovered it was folded and inside was a lock of hair, blond hair, baby hair. Time to look at the diary, and see if there was any clues to the mystery of the watch.
Quickly scanning the entries in the notebook, Jane confirmed that it did look like Jock’s writing, as difficult to decipher as any physician’s. The first entry was September of his grade 10 year, and a complaint about the English class assignment to journal. For the balance of that school year, there were weekly entries, as short as possible: ‘Basketball practice started this week’; ‘Went camping with the gang’; ‘Dad gave me some work to earn money for Christmas’; ‘Track and field tryouts this week’; ‘Got my driver’s license’. After the end of that school year, entries were only made every few months, obviously on occasions of import to a teenager, and no less cursory: ‘Took Lynn to the Christmas prom’; ‘Got a part-time job at the drug-store’; ‘Decided I want to be a doctor'. Over the years of university and medical school, entries were even less frequent, and covered topics such as major accomplishments and milestones like graduation, acceptance into medical school, internship applications.
Then came this: ‘I met my future wife today, a real fire-ball, red hair and all! Her first words to me and she told me off. I don’t know her name yet, but she’s a student nurse and I’ll surely run into her again soon. I wonder if our children will have red hair?’ Jane found herself almost blushing at the memory of their first meeting – how rude she had been – and then giggling at the thought that Jock had decided, despite her rudeness, that he wanted to marry her. After that the writings increased in frequency, all about their courtship, engagement and wedding plans, with a few comments about internship and plans to open a medical practice with his best friend Jim.
After their wedding, the entries almost stopped, but the last one was: ‘Today J told me we’re going to have a baby. A baby! Incredible! A little life, made of our love, a person to care for, play with, teach, discipline..how I wish my Dad was here to show me how to be a Good Dad like he was.’ Jane teared at the memory of that day, and the short time they’d had together to plan for the addition to the family. The worst was the reminder again that Jock had never known the children and they’d never known him.
After a few moments, Jane flipped back through the book, realizing there’d been no mention of a watch. She found two pages stuck together, and gently pulled them apart. It looked like Jock had had jam or honey on his fingers when he wrote on this page. One entry, about a year before the last: ‘Got a note from AL today about the baby. How I wish she’d leave me alone’.
to be continuedFor more wonderful stories go to http://magpietales.blogspot.com/