The Blue-Faced Watch

            I put my watch in the shop today.  You know, the blue-faced Seiko that I always wear.  I didn’t intend to put it in the shop but my wife was having problems with her watch.  It kept stopping, even with a new battery, so we drove to Valdosta to see Mr. Colyer.

             It took Mr. Colyer only a few minutes to figure out that the battery contact on my wife’s watch wasn’t tight.  When he finished I asked him if he kept records of when his customers had their watches cleaned.  He shook his head slowly and said, “No.”  I then said that I had had my watch cleaned about three or four years ago and that it probably needed cleaning now.

            My wife laughed out loud.  “What is so funny?,” I asked.  “You put your watch in to be cleaned when Patrick was four years old,” she said.  “No way,” was my reply.  “That couldn’t be possible.”  You see, Patrick is now eighteen years old now.  That would have been fourteen years ago.  My wife replied, “I remember coming here to pick it up because you were at work.”  Could it have been that long ago?  I left the watch to have it cleaned.

             It doesn’t seem possible that time has passed so quickly.  Thinking back, I have had that watch a long time.  I wore that watch for most of that cruise in the South China Seas when we were still at war with Vietnam.  In fact, come to think about it, how I got that watch was a bit of an embarrassment.  Let me go back to the beginning.

           I graduated from college in April of 1967.  I was living with my grandmother and her sister in Tallahassee at the time.  I had spent some of my college years living with college friends, but that last year I had needed a quiet place to live and study.  Grandmother’s place was quiet and close to campus.

             My parents were living in California.  My dad was stationed at a Marine Corps base in Oceanside.  He said he would fly to Florida for my graduation.  The day before graduation I got a phone call from my dad.  He was in Pensacola and would fly into Tallahassee that afternoon at 3:00 PM.

            I arrived at the airport about a half hour early and went to the airline desk.  At that time there was only one airline flying into Tallahassee.  The people at the airline desk said that there wasn’t a flight due in from Pensacola until later that evening. 

           I was puzzled, but I went outside and stood there.  There isn’t much traffic coming in and out of the Tallahassee airport today.  Thirty five years ago the place was deserted.  There was just me standing next to the terminal without another living soul in sight.

          A few minutes to three I heard the roar of a huge piston engine and looked across the runway towards the west....... and Pensacola.   There, coming in low over the trees was a huge H34 helicopter painted in Marine Corps green.  Dad had talked some pilots into giving him a ride all the way from Pensacola, about 200 miles.

           “JAG” is one of my favorite TV shows today.  It is about a navy pilot who makes a career change and becomes an attorney with the Judge Advocate General’s Office, JAG.  My dad could have been the model for that TV show.  He was a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II then went to law school and became a JAG officer with the Marines.  Real JAG officers don’t do all those action things you see on TV.  I still like the show.

      On the drive back to grandmother’s house, dad gave me a brand new watch, a white-faced Seiko.  It was a really nice watch and I was proud to wear it.  I is about the only thing I remember about my graduation.  I used to go through watches frequently.  Most of them didn’t last very long.  I am hard on watches.

         Within nine months the watch, with me wearing it, was far up the Mekong River in the middle of the Vietnam war.  Navy ships are hard on watches.  Everything you touch is steel.  Watches get banged up a lot.  It was very hot and humid and it rained constantly during the monsoon season.  That white-faced Seiko held up well.  I wore it all the time during that first tour in the Navy.

        After I got out of the Navy I got a chance to go to Europe for a few months.  I spent part of that time hitch hiking around parts of Europe, all the time wearing that watch.  I mention this because it occurred to me that it had lasted longer than any other watch I had previously owned.

        1971 found me back in the Navy and a year later I was back in the Vietnam war, this time cruising up and down the coastline refueling ships from a huge oiler.  We were a floating gas station.  We just weren’t as clean as most Navy ships.  With all that wire rigging from our overhead booms the place was dripping grease constantly.  My khaki uniforms were spotted with grease stains.

        The chance came to order something from the base exchange in Yokosuka, Japan.  We could each order one item.  I figured that my white-faced Seiko was probably close to being worn out so I looked in the catalog and ordered a nice looking square-faced Seiko.  After all, my Seiko had served me well. 

        We had never ordered from Yokosuka before and the supply officer said that it was not a sure thing, but he hoped that they would fill our order.  It would probably be a month or more before we heard anything from them.

         In April of 1972 we put into Singapore for a two week stay in the naval shipyard there.  I spent a lot of time walking through the city.  It was one of the cleanest cities I had ever been in.  Everywhere you looked someone was cleaning the streets.  It was during this time that I found a jewelry shop in one of the hotels downtown.  I remember it well because there was an ominous looking character in a black Hindu outfit, studded with silver, standing outside.  He was some kind of doorman.

         Inside this shop I found watches for sale.  Now, I had just ordered a new watch from Japan only a few weeks before, but we hadn’t heard any word of our order.  Right there in front of me was a beautiful blue-faced Seiko watch.  It was only $32.  While I was in Mr. Colyer’s shop today I noticed that Seiko watches are closer to $200....... and up.  They are still very good watches.  I bought the blue-faced watch.

          The white-faced Seiko hadn’t failed on me yet, but I decided that the blue-faced watch was a nice change.  Shortly after that I got the square-faced watch from Japan.  I then had three Seiko watches.  What was I to do with them?  I decided that the square-faced watch was a dressier watch and I would save it until later.  In the meantime I would wear the other two, off and on.

          These last ten years I have worked in a place that is very hard on watches.  They get banged up pretty good and the crystals get scratched up.  I decided that I was only going to beat up only one watch.  After years at sea, and miles in between, the blue-faced watch had seen better days.  It was scratched up and the crystal could not be replaced.  They didn’t make them anymore.  So, it was going to be the blue-faced watch that was going to suffer....... until today.

           I am at work tonight.  I do have to have a watch at work, so what do you suppose I am wearing?  I am wearing the white-faced watch, the one my dad gave me 35 years ago.

 Tom Sparkman  August 21, 2002