Putting together last Friday’s post, I remembered that my pal, Dr. Barry Pascal, had written a touching and memorable remembrance of his father a while back. I got in touch and he has graciously agreed to permit me to reprint it here. It was originally published in the North Valley Community News on May 24, 2011. You can find his humorous works for sale here.–EGF
By Barry Pascal, Pharm.D.
I love watches. Perhaps it is the quiet ticking off of time, or just simply the silent beauty they project, but for as long as I can remember I have always loved watches.
It was never about the message to other people that the watch conveyed; it was about the feeling I got when I looked at the watch — the beauty, the precision,the workmanship. Some very expensive watches tell their own story. A Rolex conveys success. A Franck Muller speaks of complexity and individuality. Old Bulovas, Longines and Hamiltons speak of times gone by.
When I was six or seven, I decided I would help my Dad by fixing his watch, the one he liked to wear when he was not away at sea. I knew I could fix it – I just needed to take it completely apart and oil it (which, of course, I did). Even though I got most of it back together again, my dad was very upset — those four or five extra little parts couldn’t have meant that much to the watch. When the watch came back from the repair shop my father told me I would have to find another family to live with if I took it apart again.
Many young people today do not have watches. They simply do not need them because they all have cell phones which display the network time somewhere on the screen. With one of the many new applications on the market, new smart phones can display, on demand, several time zones simultaneously, as well as chronograph and other timer or stopwatch functions. The obvious advantage here is that a smart phone can perform the functions of many different types of watches. For me, however, a cell phone can only allow me to view, stop or start the time. It does not come with the beauty, the history, or the love of craftsmanship. I view cell phone time as if I were Captain James Kirk or Darth Vader, while I see my watch as if I were Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison. Modern watches are so large these days that it is difficult for me to tell if it is really a watch or a small clock strapped to a wrist.
Many watches also have interesting stories.
Hans Wilsdorf was orphaned at the age of 12 and had a very unhappy childhood. When old enough, he left Germany and applied for work at a Swiss watch company that hired him only because he could read and write English. He became fascinated with the accuracy of watch movements, and in 1908 registered the trade name of his watch, Rolex. It had no meaning deriving inspiration from George Eastman who named his camera Kodak. Eastman thought that a trademark must be short, vigorous and could be identified in any language.
The real story is what happened to the Rolex Company after Hans Wilsdorf passed away in 1960. Remembering his unhappy childhood, and his belief that his watch would make the world a better place, he created the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in 1944. Upon his death all the shares of Rolex became the sole property of his charitable foundation. From then on all profits from Rolex went to charities, especially children’s health and welfare organizations.
My father willed to me his old, beat up Rolex watch when he passed away. Not only that, he told Jonathan that when I passed away the watch would go to him. He willed the watch through me.
I didn’t want my Dad’s well-worn Rolex. I had a special Seiko Quartz Chronograph that had everything on it except a Space Shuttle communicator. I loved my watch and every time I looked at it my eyes glassed over. My Dad saved and saved and then bought his watch somewhere in Europe on one of his many trips at sea. It had a Greenwich Mean Time indicator, which he used to take readings and calculate locations at sea. He wore it all the time, and when I got it that poor watch was so weathered you could hardly tell it was a Rolex.
Everyone in the family knew I was the next in line to wear Dad’s watch. At every family event he would make sure he brought up the watch issue, pointing to it on his wrist and describing his plan for its location for the next few generations.
I was holding his hand when he died. And for some unexplained reason at that exact moment my watch, the one I loved and was wearing, stopped. I couldn’t believe it. After all the fuss my Dad made about his watch, I guess he really wanted to make sure I wore it. Apparently, that beat up old Rolex was destined to play a more important role in my life than I realized.
Hans Wilsdorf never forgot where he came from and believed that he could continue to help others with his Rolex watches. My Dad taught me a very valuable lesson with his old Rolex. After my Dad passed away, I realized that it’s not the value of the watch that’s important — it’s the value of the time.
About the Author – Barry Pascal, our former North Valley Honorary Mayor and former Honorary Sheriff, owned Northridge Pharmacy for 32 years and is now retired. He has written seven comedy books and writes a humorous column for the California Pharmacists Association Journal as well as the North Valley Community News. Every so often he writes an article that is not as funny as it is personal and serious. This is one of those times.