Wrapping up a Christmas memory

It was a tarnished, old, broken pocketwatch.

My dad had a drawer in his bedroom where he put little trinkets - things that weren’t really useful, but things that he wanted to keep. There were a few small notebooks, a shoehorn, some old coins, a couple of my grandpa’s war ribbons and an old, tarnished pocketwatch.

It had fascinated me for years. The crystal was no longer there and the cover for the watch face was there, but broken. It also had an inscription: Xmas 25, 1916.

The watch had belonged to my grandfather, George Kajer, who died a year before I was born. My grandmother Margaret Kajer also died that same year, so I never knew my grandparents on my dad’s side, and dad never really talked much about them. I knew grandpa had served in the Army during World War I, that he had been in France, that my dad had grown up on a farm south of town, close to the land that the Kajer family had homesteaded in 1856. We gathered every year the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s with my dad’s family, so I knew my cousins, but beyond that, I didn’t know a whole lot about Grandpa Kajer.

Except for that watch.

I knew that the watch still worked. Even though the minute hand had broken off, you could still wind the stem and hear the ticking.

One day, when I was in junior high, I took the watch. I knew dad wouldn’t miss it, so I took it out of dad’s dresser. I took it, put it in my pocket and took my bike downtown to Gehlen’s Jewelry. I showed the watch to John Gehlen and asked him how much it would cost to get it fixed.

He looked it over and asked me about the watch. I told him I wanted to get it fixed and give it back to my dad for Christmas.

John told me it would cost about $20. That was a lot for a junior high kid back in the 1970s, but it was definitely something I could afford. After all, my Grandma Kes gave me $10 a week to come to her house one day each week after school and walk over to Jerry’s Fairway or Emil Dvorak’s store and do her grocery shopping.

Looking back, I have no idea how much it should have cost to fix that watch. I’m pretty sure John Gehlen gave me a pretty good discount on it. But I remember how proud I was to walk down to his store about a week before Christmas and pay for the watch. I didn’t tell mom anything about it, I found a nice box and some cotton padding so the watch wouldn’t bounce around in the box and wrapped it securely.

Our family opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I remember dad opening the box and the look on his face. I’m not sure he recognized it at first. The cover was fixed, the gold plating was shiny and no longer tarnished, and it had both hands on it.

I don’t remember what was said, but I do know that watch never went back in dad’s drawer. Mom bought a little display case for the watch, and it has stayed in that case for about 40 years, displayed proudly in the Kajer home.

This year will be the seventh Christmas without my dad. I am thankful that my sons got the chance to grow up knowing what a great man their Grandpa Kajer was, and our memories of him, and other family members who have passed, will be part of our Christmas celebration.

I hope all of you will be able to share similar memories with your loved ones this holiday season.

Merry Christmas.

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