“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I asked my grandmother as she tucked me into bed. She placed my Blankie next to me and my three-year-old fist curled around it.
“So that I can tell you when you need to go to bed,” she replied.
“She doesn’t care when you go to bed,” said my grandfather, pulling the covers over my head and tickling me through the quilt that his mother had made, long ago.
My grandmother laughs and ushers him out, and flicks off the light behind her. “Goodnight, honey,”
“Goodnight, Meemee,” I say quietly.
I fiddled with Blankie’s nose, and I thought of the moon, which looked so similar to the face of my grandmother’s man’s watch, perpetually accompanying her wrist, everywhere she went. Outside my door, I hear my grandfather murmur something,
“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I ask my grandmother at age ten. I put all my weight on the cookie cutter and watch it in satisfaction as it sinks into the sugar cookie dough. She stops kneading and puts her floury hands on my face tenderly.
“Because the numbers are bigger.” She gives me a sugary kiss on my nose and I sneeze. She laughs.
My grandfather dug a knuckle into the cookie dough as she swatted his hand. “Your grandmother can see the gnat on a bullet a half-mile away.”
She slides the cookies into the oven, those round white sweet things that so resembled the man’s watch on my grandmother’s man’s watch, and my grandfather and grandmother laugh together, a sweet gentle laugh that I do not understand.
“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I ask my grandmother as she fastens her wedding pearls around my neck for the prom. I adjust my uncomfortable dress and wonder for the thirtieth time why I have to go to this thing.
She steps away and sighs, her fingers resting on the center pearl. Then she smiles. “It was my father’s,” she said, running her fingers over the watch, “It reminds me of his heart ticking.”
My grandfather came in to admire me. “Her father never wore a watch,” he said, “And he had no heart.”
My grandmother helps me out of the dress as I declare I shall not go, and then she laughs as I say I want to go to bed. Just as she ever so gently pulls the quilt up around me, she slips the pearls into my hand. “Keep them,” she says, “To remember me,”
“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I whisper to my grandmother before going to bed, days after my wedding. She smiles at me, and smiles at my husband.
“It looks professional,” she whispers back, “And I like how it fits my big wrist.”
My grandfather walked up and led her away. “She wears garbage bags braided tight together as a necklace to represent the poor,” he says over his shoulder, “And her wrist is so small a ring would slip off it.”
“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I ask my grandmother as she puts my first child next to me in bed. She grins down at the baby and lets it finger her nose. She laughs. He gurgles.
She looks up, and the baby shifts and stares at her watch, just before she gives the baby to me to nurse and put to sleep. The baby squeals quietly and an edge of a smile tugs at his little lips. She stands, looking down at him, and sighs very softly.
“To remind me that time heals all.”
My grandfather comes in to watch the baby go to sleep. “But she knows it doesn’t.”
The baby gurgles, and I notice how the whites of his eyes are so similar to the gently tremoring white watch face on my grandmother’s mottled skin. Then they close, and he is asleep. My grandmother watches him sleep with a wistful smile on her face, touches his cheek with her finger, and leaves the room.
“Why do you wear a man’s watch?” I ask my grandmother as my son wheels her around the nursing home. She screams and laughs and urges him on, and they run down the hallway, laughing.
She returns, her eyes alight as she laughs at the startled faces of her old friends and the nursing home staff. “It belonged to Paul Newman and someone might steal it,” she says, touching my son’s face with her trembling hands. He smiles down at her and fingers her watch.
My grandfather wheels himself over to us from his room. “Your grandmother stole it from Ellie Joe’s Pawn Shoppe in the West End when she was twelve,” he says, “And no one would rob an old lady.”
My grandmother is off, down the hallway, laughing and yelling.
Then I follow her into her room to help her get in bed.
I do not ask again, even as I pull the quilt that my grandfather’s mother made long ago, up to her chin.
“Why did she wear a man’s watch?” I ask softly, sadly, as I watch as her casket is lowered into the earth. The shovels fill the hole in the earth, and soon grass will wave over her grave in the breeze, but no shovels can fill the empty hole in my heart. The sun beats down on me, and my son, too young to understand, does not cry. But I do.
My grandfather weeps quietly as the crowd disperses, and does not answer me.
“Why did Meemee wear a man’s watch?” I ask my mother, who is now wearing the weathered, smoothed-out watch, with the replaced buckle and cracking leather strap. She sits with her hand on my grandfather’s bed’s rail. The nursing home’s empty sounds overwhelm us.
My mother runs her index finger over the watch’s face. It smiles up at her knowingly. My grandfather stares at the watch from his bed, and he does not answer until my mother does. She sighs, and looks at me, and then the old watch.
“She wore it to hide a terrible scar,” my mother whispers, looking at the watch.
“And the past,” says my grandfather, as I lay the quilt his mother made over him. He closes his eyes, and then he is asleep.