Memento

It’s easier for me to write about the past than the present, but I won’t attempt to evade this.

This story begins as follows:

Nearly 1½ years ago our family moved into our current apartment, and there were several issues to be dealt with, one of which was particularly unexpected.

For the first several weeks, I often felt a slight electric shock whenever I came near our kitchen appliances when in operation. At first, I thought that some of them were faulty, but the effect was always exactly the same whether it was the stove, the kettle, the toaster, etc… Something was clearly amiss, and it wasn’t one particular appliance. Eventually, an electrician arrived and swiftly identified the problem – the apartment’s wiring had been ungrounded.

Sadly, on an otherwise innocuous day, some weeks prior to the electrician’s visit, my wrist watch had brushed against the electric kettle while it was running, and the ensuing charge had warped the glass. That was the same watch I had found in Papa’s top desk drawer after his death and worn every day since his funeral a year earlier.

No less regrettably, my then 4½-year-old daughter, who was teaching herself to unclasp and reclasp my watch accidentally dropped the unfortunate memento onto the floor while she was fiddling with the band, and -of course- the warped glass cracked slightly.

Upset. I was really upset.

But, honestly, I had already been going back and forth over what to do with my watch back when it had been struck by electricity. On the one hand, it was Papa’s watch:

I wear my father’s cap; my father’s yarmulke; my father’s watch; his house shoes.

-Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #15, Nov. 11, 2018

On the other hand, the watch face was damaged… and blemishes irritate me. Despite the cost, I decided to purchase a new watch produced by the same watchmaker that Papa had selected. I picked one with a brown face that I liked in particular, from the same series.

The new watch arrived, and it was lovely. I admired it appreciatively and then put it back into its box… I didn’t like the idea of it getting scratched, which I well knew would happen once I started wearing it. Papa’s watch still remained on my wrist, but I somehow felt comforted knowing that my new undamaged timepiece was resting nearby on the bookshelf.

Over the weeks that followed, I found myself wearing Papa’s watch less often. Sometimes I would leave it on the table or on a bookshelf and forget about it… sometimes I’d remember removing it, but I wouldn’t be able to find it. Right now, his watch happens to be lying before me on the table as I sit here typing, but I haven’t been been wearing it today.

The thing about Papa’s watch is that it’s not just a random memento. Papa was very attached to wearing watches. Throughout my childhood, at all different ages, he would express bewilderment at my lack of desire to wear one, whenever I happened to not have a timepiece on my wrist. By the time cell phones became popular, I really didn’t see any reason to wear a watch, and even the watch my wife once bought for me as a birthday present eventually ended up in one of our bedroom drawers.

That’s why my wrist was bare when I found Papa’s watch in his desk drawer before his funeral – I hadn’t been wearing a watch for years… but Papa had never, ever been without his.


I wore Papa’s watch for more than a year before its glass was damaged, and I continued to wear it daily for nearly a year following its disfigurement… but I seem not to want to wear it as much anymore.

I also have the beautiful new watch that Papa would have liked, but I don’t really want to wear it either… I don’t want it to get damaged, and -more importantly- it isn’t Papa’s watch… so what would be the point exactly? Also, wearing a new watch would require me deciding what to do with Papa’s watch, and I don’t really want to think about that.

The truth is that it’s not only Papa’s watch. One of his hats that I took back with me to Israel was his summer cap, made of polyester. During the hot months, which are the majority of the year here, I always wear that cap outdoors; and during the colder months I always wear his winter cap. Some time ago, I noticed that Papa’s summer cap had become slightly discolored and was staining the wall that it was hanging upon. When I put the cap down atop a piece of paper, it would also get stained brown…

I know that Papa’s summer cap has had its day. Once winter really sets in, I’ll switch back to Papa’s winter cap, and I doubt that I’ll return to wearing his discolored polyester cap again. But- what should I do with it? I don’t want to think about that either.

There are other such examples, but I’m not into belaboring the point, and I know that these reflections are rather prosaic. How much can one write about mundane effects? Also, I know that I don’t need to wear Papa’s clothes in order to remember him. Certainly my mother and my brother remember Papa in other ways.


I’m struggling with the realization that I’ve been letting go of my need for mementos…

I still have an unopened half liter bottle of AKASHI White Oak Blended Japanese Whiskey, which I purchased on the way to Papa’s funeral. That summer night, at Ben Gurion International Airport, I spontaneously bought myself three bottles- The first we drank after the funeral; the second I brought to the synagogue to mark the anniversary of Papa’s death; the third one has been sitting untouched since July 9th, 2018.

Honestly, I have no idea what to do with it.

Now, I don’t drink much, but I greatly enjoy a good whiskey, and I almost always have some at home. Two or three weeks ago, I suddenly had a strong hankering for a drink, and the only bottle available was that half liter bottle of AKASHI.

I resisted opening the AKASHI that day, and just today I finally stopped by the liqueur store (at my wife’s behest) to stock us up for the coming winter months. Even as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been sipping on some Glenfarclas, enjoying the heat running down into my belly…

Why haven’t I opened that bottle of Japanese whiskey yet?

What is it that I am waiting for?

101 thoughts on “Memento”

  1. David, thank you for sharing this. This is very familiar territory. It is surprising the significance these mementos have in our lives, even though there may be little intrinsic value. The associations are pretty powerful! I think you are doing very well coming to terms with your father’s death and honoring his memory! All the best! ❤

  2. Hi ben,

    I too have a thing about blemishes and it never fails; whenever I have something new I take good care of it yet invariably end up making a mark in it.
    I loved your story. I, too, have mementos of my dad… his overcoat and matching fedora, World War II medals, wartime shoe brush, and other items. I rarely use most of them, but once in a while I look at and hold them. It gives me a good feeling. Some I keep in a wooden box that has his picture on it. It feels good to have these things, knowing I can hold them in my hands as he did.
    Have you thought of pouring two glasses of the whiskey and imagining your dad sitting across from you, while you share a drink together in silence at night, perhaps with a candle lit? I think that’s what I would do in the situation. You might want to wear his watch for that occasion…
    Blessings to you.

    1. Have you thought of pouring two glasses of the whiskey and imagining your dad sitting across from you, while you share a drink together in silence at night, perhaps with a candle lit?

      That’s not something I’d thought of, Steve, but… maybe I will do it some day 🙂 … it’s an interesting idea for me.

      Sincerely,
      David

  3. Hi,
    I just read your post Momento because I got a notice from WordPress that you liked my SALE post for the children’s picture book that I wrote; and wanted to let you know that it I was able to totally relate to your post about your father’s watch. When my mom passed away I was able to retrieve a few items from her apartment which is now displayed in my home. A small 3 legged triangular table whose parquet top opens up to reveal a compartment with a small music box which is under glass so you can see the inner works- which miraculously still plays,(my mom was 96 when she passed in 2013), a ceramic plate from Germany with a landscape on it that hangs above the table- like it did in her place, a numbered lithograph of a girl reading a book which I found out was actually done by a pretty famous artist. It had been in my childhood bedroom and but was in her living room; hung over the bed which was my now adult daughter’s childhood room, that HER daughter (my granddaughter) sleeps in when they stay over.

    Then there are a few other things that I couldn’t just give away- a sweatshirt which I paired with a new pair of sweatpants that I wear to the gym- unfortunately I see it is beginning to fray from all the washings and this saddens me. She had a leather stand-up eyeglass case with a gold pair of glasses drawn on it- that was always on her night table. I still keep an old pair of reading glasses in it. It’s on my desk- even though I had cataract surgery and no longer need to wear glasses; and a small white ceramic mug that she ALWAYS drank her morning coffee out of like forever, and now I drink my nighttime coffee from (unlike the big mug with my grandchildren’s pictures on- that’s for morning coffee.) And when I hold these things, I think…she held these things. It has her forever DNA on it, and it always feels like I am holding a little big of ‘her’ in my hands.

    Thank you for writing and sharing “Momento”.

    1. Melodie, thank you so much for reading and responding. I think about such things a lot, and it continues to surprise me that I feel such an attachment to my Papa’s personal effects. I never thought that I would be such a person. My brother, for example, has exhibited almost no such nostalgia.

      All best,
      David

  4. I so love your take on your papa’s watch. I feel a real synchronicity with it. Should I offer a question?
    Do you feel it holds a wee bit of his Energy?
    I know I wear my mom’s thin gold chain still—all the time, as she did years before she passed. The gold chain that my papa handed me when I arrived on site, hours after her passing (we live many drive hours away). At any rate, I have both of my parents’ watches next to me (where I sit for work & leisure), and a pocket watch of my grandfathers. ❤️🦋🌀

    1. Oof. I’m afraid of my own answer to your question because I’m disinclined to consciously believe in such things…

      I think I can say the following:

      I do not deny that things that I cannot prove or sense are still possible… still, I think (and fear) that I may want to believe what you suggest because that feels comforting to me.

      1. I get it. I didn’t “feel” Energy until about 15 years ago. It’s weird. It’s subtle. But I definitely feel it. Typically, I feel Energy from words, crystals, trees, but I guess that’s why people call it mysterious, mystical, or woo-woo. cRaZy, huh?

  5. It’s a sad piece, but wonderfully written! Got me thinking of my own keepsakes similarly hoarded … Most of them useless, like a candy wrapper, a dried leaf … But each one is poignant with memory valuable only to me …

    I’ll surely return to your blog to read more. Keep writing!

  6. Sometimes I wonder if you’re a person with one feet dipped in the past, but I only know you through the words you share here. Associations we make with people, their habits, little details, mean so much more than would be caught by an outsider’s eye.

      1. It’s like you keep falling back to past memories and writing on them which helps us see where you’re coming from, it’s meant in a good way ofcourse. Your writings have an essence of nostalgia in them. I like that!

  7. Oh ,so much love and devotion for your own papa.like you,I too most devoted to my papa who had expired ten years before.but i care all things very well related to my papa.you will be surprised that i feel some difficulties then papa comes in my dreams to guide.

  8. I’m wearing my mom’s fall jacket even though winter has come. She died in February of this year. Also I keep a photo of her with me in better days on the fridge. Tacked on with one of her kitchen magnets that looks like a tiny porcupine. These things keep me tacked on to her in a subliminal, familiar way.

    1. I know these behaviors are totally human… but when I stop to think about my attachment to all of these objects, it feels like a poor substitute 😦

      But… yes… I know – that’s how the world works.

      Thank you so much for your support, Mary

  9. This is quite an honest and heartfelt write. I understand the part about attributing importance to objects like a watch. There’s just something about them that captures the transient nature of life far better than anything else could.

  10. Dear Ben, thank you for sharing these thoughts with us! My father died over 20 years ago and for many years I wore his cap, also a winter coat he wore! However, since then, they became worn and so I had to replace them. The replacements were of course what I chose and so in a way, I have moved on, my grieving is over and I’m free to celebrate his life in whatever way I feel is appropriate. Again, thank you for this post, it reminds me just how far I have travelled since my own father’s passing, a distance I didn’t think was possible over 20 years ago!

    1. Ashley – thank you SO much for your reflection.

      I know that this is the natural way of the world… but I also know that at this moment in time my feelings are incredibly mixed… I can’t pull them apart from one another, try though I do 😢

      1. This time of the year, the beginning of winter is a traditional time of remembrance, Halloween and so on, but it is also a time for dreaming, for nurturing seeds.

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