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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky


Time ticks away, unless you’re in a watch repair shop


When I was in university I appeared in the Samuel Beckett absurdist stage play Waiting for Godot. It’s a play where two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly, and in vain, for a man named Godot who never arrives. At one point in the play, Estragon declares, “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.”

Such was the experience I had, many years ago, while waiting for a watch repair that, it seemed, would never happen.

It was back in 1988 when my dad was first diagnosed with cancer. He had to come into Saskatoon to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. The watch he always wore, the first one he ever purchased in the late 1940s, stopped working. He asked if I wouldn’t mind taking it to a watch repair store on Broadway Avenue. I assured him I would look after it, and from there he didn’t think about it much, as he had other things on his mind.

A few months later I dropped by the store to see if it was fixed yet, but the answer was no. Dad said he wasn’t in a hurry, but I thought he must be getting a little impatient. A year later I checked back to inquire, but they told me it was still waiting to be repaired. Were they waiting for Godot? I continued to check in on them every few months after that, but they kept telling me it was still waiting to be fixed.

Time was ticking away and my fear was that the store forgot they even had the watch. Every so often Dad would ask me if it was fixed, but the answer was always the same. I went into the store a few times per year throughout the 1990s, but frustratingly walked out with the words of Estragon, “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.”

In May 2002, 14 years after I had taken the watch in, and with my patience long gone, I walked into the store demanding the return of Dad’s watch, repaired or not. When I showed the claim ticket dated May 1988, a new store attendant thought it should be done by now. She wasn’t aware of my history with the lack of progress on this repair, so she invited me to the back of the store to help look for the watch. Seriously? We managed to find it — unrepaired!

I’m not sure if it was my frustration or fury that finally compelled them to act. Sometime after Christmas of that year I went to check once again, and this time the watch was finally fixed. 

I expressed my excitement and relief at having Dad’s watch, but when they gave me a bill totalling $120, a bit of an argument ensued. I reminded them that they had had the watch in their possession for over 14 years! We will just call it even! They wouldn’t budge. I paid them what was owed — after all, you can’t put a price on sentimentality. I wrapped the watch in a special box and gave it to Dad for Christmas. 

The expression on Dad’s face when he opened the gift was something I’ll never forget. He took it gently in his hands and gazed at it, not quite believing what he was seeing. He was profoundly grateful, but I also noted he seldom wore it after that. It was an old watch of a rare design, but it also contained many memories of his younger days and his time with Mom. Mom had died months prior, and maybe the memories were just too much to re-live. The hands of time robbed him of many years that he could have worn it.

Dad died in 2006 and, as a tribute to him, I used to wear the watch almost daily. Another jeweller, however, told me that daily wear would be too hard on the watch. Many of the parts are obsolete and it would be almost impossible to fix if it stopped working. I was told to wear it only on special occasions.

I choose to wear it during the first week of each school year, in memory of my dad because he, too, was a teacher. I also wear it on other occasions — like my kids’ birthdays, Christmas, Easter and weddings. Whenever I wear the watch, my kids, as they always used to when they were so young, want me to put it next to their ears. “Can I listen to Grandpa?” they always would ask. The kids told me the ticking was the beating of Grandpa’s heart. They know he still lives. 

Whenever I look at my dad’s watch I mark time with a sense of nostalgia, tinged with a sense of regret. I regret not being more demanding and more persistent and insistent that the watch be returned, repaired or not. Time stops for no one, but it certainly stood still for many years in the back of an old watch repair store. Dad could have had more time with it, even though it was only a watch, but he was deeply grateful for its return and repair.

Gratitude is the key to living life fully. Despite the struggles in his own life, Dad lived a life of gratitude and in thanksgiving, not to mention infinite patience. Like the ticking of a clock, if we all count our blessings with the same regularity with which time passes, then the watches we wear will become instruments for counting our blessings, making our lives tick with thanksgiving.

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.