Winding the Watch

While sitting in church a few months ago, attending the funeral service for a former colleague, I beheld a curious sight.

During the eulogy, delivered by the minister in his solemn, stentorian tone, a man sitting one pew ahead of me began to polish his glasses.  Slowly, assiduously, he wiped the front and back of each lens.  In between wipes, he held them up to the stained-glass window off to one side, as if expecting a divine ray of light to beam down upon him through the glass.


Such a commonplace exercise; and yet, I thought, so seemingly out of place in that crowded church.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he was paying attention to the words being spoken.  Or was he as distracted by his little task as I was?

When he had finished the job to his own satisfaction, he replaced his glasses, smoothed the hair over his ears, and settled back to listen to the rest of the funereal tribute.  I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

But the episode took me back a long, long way—back to when I was a small boy, attending church with my grandparents.  We used to go regularly—to a huge, cathedral-like edifice with o’er-vaulting arches, windows that turned the sun’s beams to every colour in the spectrum as they streamed through the glass, massive stone walls, and aged oaken altar.  Every time I entered, experiencing as if for the first time the great hush that filled the soaring space, I felt small and awed by its majesty.

Everyone spoke to my grandfather, a rector’s warden for many years, and to my grandmother, a pillar of the ladies’ auxiliary.  They spoke to me, too, usually while ruffling the auburn curls I wore back then.  I smiled forbearingly through it all.

I used to enjoy being there, though, because I loved the tremendous, swelling music of the massive pipe organ, and the grand singing of the choir.  To this day, the sound of the old hymns sends a shiver through me—A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; Abide With Me; O God, Our Help In Ages Past; Blessed Assurance; and so many more.


But I always dreaded the point during the service when the minister would climb high into the pulpit to deliver his sermon.  Not that his messages were inappropriate; I was probably too young to understand them, anyway.

No, I dreaded it because my grandfather would always take that time—when there was no sound in all that hushed hall, save the minister’s voice—to wind his watch.  To my cocked ears, sitting right alongside him, that winding was louder than the most thundering organ oratorio.

Once a week, without fail, he would wind his watch.  And I, in my childish way, was mortified that he should choose to do it there.  And amazed that I seemed to be the only one who noticed.

Today, as a grandfather myself, I see it a little differently—as an analogy of sorts.  I’ve come to believe that, just as he wound the watch to keep good time through the following week, so, too, was he rewinding his spirit, sitting there in church, to see him safely through the week to come.

I have that watch now, still on one end of the gold chain he wore across the front of his waistcoat, with a weighted fob at the other end.  It sits in a drawer in my bedroom, and I take it out from time to time.  Even after all these years, it keeps good time—when I wind it.

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Seeing that man in church the other day, wiping his glasses so diligently, I remembered my grandfather.  I could almost hear the sound that used to embarrass me so—and I’m embarrassed now that I was embarrassed then.

I still miss him.  I wish he could be sitting there beside me once again, smelling comfortingly of bay-rum after-shave and pipe tobacco.

And winding his watch.

Is It Still?

Even at this late stage in my life, there are still so many questions and so few answers.

For example, is golf still golf if one doesn’t walk the course?  Since retiring, I have devoted countless hours to flailing away at a little white ball, following it down fairways that are too narrow, poking and prodding it close enough to the hole that I can pick it up—a gimme in golf parlance.


But I almost never walk the course.  Instead, I ride a golf cart along paved pathways, across swaths of mowed grass, stopping too often by bunkers full of granulated sand.  The only exception is when I fail to hit a rider—more golf parlance for a shot that doesn’t travel far enough to warrant climbing back aboard the cart to ride to the next shot.

Golf is a game invented to test one’s physical, mental, and psycho-emotional endurance, and it has forever involved walking.  If one drives the course, is it still golf?

Another question concerns an issue that plagues me in moments of idleness, of which there are many.  Is it still okay for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady?  And if one does, should one expect a ‘thank-you’ as the lady sweeps through?

More often than not, I rush ahead when in the company of ladies to man the door.  Being not the most graceful of people at my advancing age, I frequently bang into someone in my haste.  Or regrettably, I approach the door from the wrong side, making it necessary to push in front of my companions to open it.  Once in a while, I’ve even been known to let go of the door too soon (usually because the strength in my arm gives out), which provides a none-too-gentle bump on the derriere of the unfortunate lady caught on the threshold.  I rarely hear a smiling Thank you!

A third example has recently become a concern.  Is it still acceptable for one such as I to look at pretty young women?  During a lifetime of doing so, I’ve gone from being considered precocious in my pre-teens, to flirtatious in high school; from admiring in my early working years, to bold in middle-age; from cute in my early senior years, to…what?  Lecherous?

Now, when so many pretty girls are the age of my granddaughters, is it still okay to appreciate their youth and beauty?

Despite the fact I’m a grandfather, I continue to be plagued by these questions.  For instance, there’s the matter of leaving one’s bed unmade after getting up in the morning.  You know, as long as no one is expected to drop by.  Or is one supposed to honour the teachings of one’s mother even now, so many years later?

Though she’s been gone many a year, I still imagine her tread on the stairs, coming to inspect my bedroom before breakfast.  The stripes on the bedspread had to be straight, from the pillow to the footboard; the hem had to be off the floor, and uniformly so, along the length of the bed; and, although I never had to bounce a dime off it in military fashion, the top had better be smooth, with no wrinkles showing through.

Is it still necessary to make one’s bed every morning?

There are so many questions!  If it doesn’t have a hole in the middle, is it still a doughnut?  Is it still correct to say one dials a number, now that there’s no longer a dial on the phone?  Is it still de rigueur to doff one’s hat in an elevator, when so many around us eat in restaurants with their hats on?  Is it still the Olympics with no truly amateur athletes extant?

I know there are folks who could not care less about such questions.  Political correctness has mandated the answers in many cases, anyway, and general indifference often covers the rest.  But how else might I occupy my time, except by considering such weighty matters?

Is it still Sunday if not everyone goes to church?  Is it still winter if there’s no snow?  Is it still cream if it’s made from petroleum products?  Is it still my car if I’m only leasing it?  Is it still democracy if hardly anybody votes?

I don’t remember having the inclination in years gone by to ponder these questions.  Or perhaps I thought I had all the answers back then.  Regardless, I now regale friends—those who hang around long enough—with rhetorical queries and enquiries, in hopes they’ll engage with me in the pursuit of answers.  I’ve chosen to interpret their glazed eyes and pained expressions as a devoted effort to help.

The greatest barrier to learning, I read a long time ago, is the failure to ask.  And so I do.  Endlessly. Repetitively.  Annoyingly, even.

Is it still okay?