They say punctuality is a virtue. And the first step to being ON TIME is, of course, actually knowing what time it is.
Despite my ongoing desire to be truly virtuous in all ways, I made an impulsive, lifestyle-altering decision awhile back while enjoying a warm, sunny day on the beach that fronts the Coastal Carolina digs we visit from time to time. Tired of constantly worrying about what time it was getting to be and where I thought I had to be next, I ripped off my six thousand dollar Rolex and threw it as far as I could into the choppy surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
Well, actually it was one of those three-dollar plastic "sport" watches with the rubber wristband that you find near the chewing gum and eyeglass repair kits in the checkout aisle of discount stores. And I didn't really throw it into the water, but gently tossed it into a beach bag, where, I assume, it still rests, pulsing away and accurately telling time for no one at all. But the rest of the story is pretty close to being the truth. Eventually, the goofy tan line that circled my wrist and marked me as a tourist filled in, and as it did, I found myself becoming free of the need to constantly check the hour and worry about the next item on my personal dance card.
I continue to have many responsibilities, of course. When I'm out east, most of them involve a pair of young grandsons who expect me to be on hand when it's time to feed quarters into gumball machines or play games of "catch," "five dollars" and "p-i-g." But I am surrounded by clocks in the bedroom, kitchen and the car, plus the grandma-lady has both an accurate watch and a fine sense of where I should be when it really matters.
But I confess, I still glance at my wrist from time to time.
Back in the day, long before our lives were managed by vast assortments of seemingly essential digital doohickies, a wristwatch was a pretty handy thing to have. Of course, even the less expensive ones were quite a bit pricier than the rubbery digital model I tossed into that beach bag on that idyllic, carefree day. Plus they required regular winding and a certain amount of care, cleaning and other maintenance. Receiving a first watch was, in fact, sort of a rite of passage that indicated that the young recipient had reached a certain level of responsibility and maturity. You got a watch when it was thought you would and could take care of it.
Suffice it to say, I did not own one for many, many years.
Instead, I grew up in a place where the town "whistle" blew (and still blows) at 7 a.m., noon, one o'clock and five p.m., which was just about all the timekeeping information I needed, given that most kids' summertime schedule in those days required little more than attendance at a few meals and an all-important sweaty arrival on the front porch sometime "before dark." so that moms could count heads to assure themselves that they still had the same number of children that they started the day with.
Truth is, I can only remember one incident when ownership of a personal timepiece seemed truly important. It was the summer of 1963, and the big news was that a near-total eclipse of the sun was predicted. The papers and other media were filled with dire warnings of the damage one could do to one's eyes if one dared to look at the shadowed sun. Knowing full well that us kids were generally brainless, the chamber of commerce hit on what I still think of as a pretty good idea. Fearing that the small town of Galva was destined to be known as "The City of Dumb, Blind Kids" instead of "The City of Go," they sponsored a free movie at the local theatre on that afternoon. The Galva News from that week shows a front-page picture of over 300 boys and girls lined up to see "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
I was one of them.
So was Albert.
Now, Albert (name changed to protect the guilty) was a little different than most of us. Specifically, he had stuff. Good stuff.
While most of us tooled around town on battered Schwinns and Western Flyers we had inherited from big brothers, Albert had a brand-new English bicycle with actual gears and hand brakes. Likewise, he had a new baseball glove, tennis shoes that were still kind of white, and, while most of us staggered around in t-shirts and out-at-the-knee blue jeans, Albert wore polo shirts and khaki Bermuda shorts.
One more thing.
Albert had a watch.
And we had a plan.
While the rest of us were riveted to the daring exploits of James Mason, Pat Boone and the tragic Gertrud the Duck, Albert would keep an eye on the time. When the appointed hour was reached, Albert would give us the high sign and we would sneak out of the theatre and into the forbidden streets. We figured we could pull it off because we knew the guy who ran the place would be busy in the projection booth. Since it was a free movie, there would be no ticket taker to stop us. And who would be dumb enough to leave a cool show just to fry our retinas?
We would, that's who.
As those 50-year-old newspaper accounts will attest, the streets of Galva were all but deserted during the eclipse. All the kids (except for us, of course) were still watching the movie. It was a Saturday afternoon, so most adults were wise enough to stay home and watch the whole thing on TV, with a few downtown store owners stuck wishing a few more customers would stop by. We quickly zipped down the street, away from any wondering grownup eyes.
Then we stopped. We looked around.
As the paper would later say, the much-talked-about natural phenomenon was sort of a "dud." We weren't actually dumb enough to want to look directly at the thing, but we had anticipated an eery, unearthly darkness and a chilling drop in temperature.
Nope. Not even that.
Disappointed, we crept back into the theatre just in time to see the monster eat the duck, and that was that.
A few years later, I got a watch of my own in observation of my graduation from high school. I suspect dad and mom really didn't think I was ready to take care of it even then, but it was a new-fangled battery-powered model that was water-resistant, to boot, so at least I wouldn't have to wind it or worry too much if I forgot to take it off before I got into the shower. I've owned a lot of watches since then, many of which are now tucked into drawers here and there, resting, so to speak, until I might need them again someday.
For now, though, I'm pretty happy in my timeless state. But one of these days, I think I just might want to strap one on again.
After all, they say there will be a total eclipse of the sun in August of 2017.
I figure it's my turn to give Albert the high sign.