Saturday, February 28, 2015

Someone to watch over me

I’ve always loved watches.  I’ve owned big watches and little watches.  For years, after my mother died, I wore her delicate Caravelle ladies watch.  It was gold and had an elasticized band that cut into me and left tiny red marks in the shape of squares on wrist.  My mother’s wrists were much slimmer than mine.  She was delicate and small boned. 

Still, I wore that watch until it stopped working and then I retired it to my jewelry box.

In the seventies I wore a vintage pocket watch on a red silk ribbon around my neck.  This went well with my McCabe and Mrs. Miller/Julie Christie-inspired ensembles, the flounced skirts and the flower-child hairdos. 

I was never one of those Swatch Watch people of the 1980’s.  By then, I had a husband and a baby.  I was writing young adult novels at night and writing marketing copy for Estée Lauder during the day.  While the other girls at Lauder were going out to Studio 54 or Lime Light, I was thinking about picking up dinner and getting to the nanny’s home in time.  And then the next day, I would wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my novel.

This is when I started to wear my Timex.

I’ve owned a few Timex watches.  They seem to last for about five years and then they quit.  They’d probably last longer if I didn’t abuse them so much.  I wear them day and night.  I often forget to take my Timex off in the shower.  I bang it on things and I spill things.  This rough and tumble treatment doesn’t mean I love my Timex any less.  In fact, it makes me love it more.  My Timex is like a faithful old friend, who’s straight spoken--the numbers are big and easy to understand—no winding necessary and there’s nothing to set or change.  It doesn’t tell me the date, the temperature, or how fast I walk to the post office or how many calories I’ve burned.  It just tells me the time.  Minutes and seconds.  And that’s all I really need.

More than this, my Timex is a link to the real world and the passage of time and place.  Sometimes, you need to know what time it is.  You need to witness the hand of the watch gently shift from one number to another.  Sometimes, this simple movement is all that stands between you and drifting away from the shores of reality.

I learned this when I was in France a few years ago. 

I was at the end of 6-week tour, researching a new book, Ooh La La! French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day.

It was early October, the last evening before I was to fly back to the United States.  I was in the southern town of Toulouse, one of my favorite places in France, and everything was in place.  My bags were packed.  I was not only ready to go home, but I really needed to go home.  I was exhausted beyond tired, and just wanted to return to my husband and our home.

Only, the universe had other plans for me.

Just as I was leaving my French friend’s home to go out to a farewell dinner, I slipped on a very large, very old, very slippery cobblestone.

I went down in one big swoop and I hit my head on the stone.  My left foot teetered from one side and then to the other with a crack and another crack.  I felt a jolt of pain and then I fainted.

I awoke to the sounds of the French ambulance—the singsong siren, that is so different from the American siren.  I was in a state of shock and I could feel myself unmoored, slowly drifting away from all that was familiar.

As it turns out, I broke my ankle in two places—the tibia and the fibula and before I could really grasp what was happening to me, I was rushed into surgery, where the doctor inserted a titanium plate and six pins.

When I woke up I couldn't remember what had happened to me.  The nurses tiptoed in and out of my room, whispering in French, before giving me morphine.  And while I do know French, at this point the language eluded me.  Everything floated away from my consciousness.  And to add to this sense of disconnection, there was no cell phone reception in my room.  There was no clock on the wall.  And no internet.  My husband was on a research trip in the Australia outback and while my French friend was able to eventually reach him and tell him what had happened, he had no way of getting in touch with me.

During this time, I did have two touchstones to keep me anchored in reality.  There was my little moleskine notebook, where I wrote everything down.  And most important, there was my Timex watch.   Whenever my blood pressure was checked, I noted the time and wrote it down in my notebook.  I noted the time that breakfast arrived, lunch, then dinner.  I noted the time when the nurse came into the room to tidy up or when the doctor made his morning rounds.  I noted the time when the sun came up outside my little window and when the streets of Toulouse were busy and when they were quiet. 

I spent nine days like this, until my husband arrived, rescued me, and took me back home to America. 

This experience changed my life and it was after this, I began to keep my watch on all the time.  Today, I never take it off—except to shower or swim (when I remember!)  I sleep with it on, and sometimes will check the time in the middle of the night, just to reassure myself that all is well with the world and I know the time.  I cherish my watch, knowing that left to my own devices, without the trappings of modern life, my little Timex will still protect me.  Or this is what I tell myself. 

Someday, I imagine my daughter will wear my Timex wristwatch.  She will wear it for a year or two, and she will find comfort in the thought that her mother wore this watch and that it served as a kind of talisman against the vagaries of life—not that it will necessarily protect her from unexpected events, but that should something unexpected happen, such as a fall in a foreign city, this wristwatch will tell her the time and she can actually see time pass, as sure as she can see the sun rise in the sky and fall again--minute by minute—in a plain spoken, straight-forward, honest and simple manner.  And I think this is a great gift for mother to give her daughter. 

With this in mind, I recently discovered  It's a wonderful auction site that carries fine art, beautiful vintage jewelry, and yes, wristwatches.  So if you want to pass on a memento, a beautiful object with meaning, this is a great place to begin.

What would you like to pass along to your daughter, your son, to a family member or a good friend?  What's your story? 

I'd love to hear more about it!  



  1. Your story tells us to seize the moment, Jamie. So glad you lived to tell this tale to others. Thank you for your serious message wrapped in beautifully put-together words. Will share this blog post.

    1. Dear Rozsa--I agree with you! Seize the moment. Thank you so much for your support, dear one! xo Jamie

  2. I love this piece. It's a tale of time and of time! Beautifully written by the talented Jamie Cat, with wonderful pathos and pictures.

    1. Dear Laurie--Thank you so much for reading the post. I really appreciate it! Love, Jamie

  3. Oh this piece of writing is so full of emotion, so evocative...lovely.
    I did not know that you wrote juvenile fiction before writing your ooh la la books. I do remember hearing about your fall and surgery in France and even saw some pictures...not sure if they were on your blog or if John and Cheryl showed me.
    I have been wearing a watch too and own two. One. Is an ESQ man's watch, the other a waterproof Tommy Hilfiger in white for boating but it has been my go to watch since I purchased it last Spring....probably because I seem to have my hands in water in the kitchen sink so often!

    1. Dear Leslie--I love that you own two watches--and a man's watch! For a while, I wore my Dad's watch. It was big and had huge numbers, so it was very good for teaching and keeping track of time. I can't wait to see your watch--in person, in Paris! Love, Jamie

  4. A marvelous and evocative essay, connecting the dots in such a lovely way. Thank you, Jamie!
    Many years ago, when I was still in college and experimenting a lot with personal style, a woman I greatly admired showed me her watch, and said, "I can afford almost any watch I like, but I never saw any reason to wear anything other than a reliable Timex. I have several!" And I woke up to the concept that living well and having a beautiful personal style could also mean choosing practical over flashy. It was an important little mentor moment for me.

    1. Dear Kelly--Merci beaucoup! I love your story about the woman who wore her reliable Timex and I love how you coin the term "mentor moment". I think this is so zen. There are all these surprising mentors out there--in our lives and then strangers passing through. If we're really present, and listen with our ears and hearts, we can learn all sorts of things. You are a mentor to me, dear Kelly. Your house warming gift basket was so charming and so filled with meaningful things. Just this morning, I was admiring the red Moulin Rouge tee towel, while eating Mamman cherry jam on toast. You are a doll! Love, Jamie

  5. Thanks for that, Jamie.
    I have more than a few old watches. Most don't work, or require repairs I never seem to budget for or get around to taking care of. My favorite is Grandfather's 1936 Hamilton, oblong shaped and curved to fit the wrist, with a mother of pearl face and gold, art nouveau numerals. I'd found it in his dresser drawer. The watch didn't run, had no band, and was missing the crystal. I got it fixed and wore it with a lizard skin band. My left wrist had never looked so grand. However, it kept time erratically, and the crystal broke rather easily; the jeweler who replaced it several times told me: "It's is a shame to wear such a watch! It is an antique!" I wore it anyway until the crystal broke again. Finally, and in keeping with my Grandfather's example, I put the handsome wristwatch into an envelope in my desk drawer. I suppose it'll be discovered one day and assessed accordingly.

  6. Dear Michael--Thank you so much for this beautiful story of your grandfather's watch. Perhaps one day, your daughter will discover the envelope and turn the watch into a lovely necklace. Your descriptions are so gorgeous--but then you are a wonderful writer, so I'm not surprised! Love, Jamie


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