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?

89 thoughts on “Memento”

  1. I still have my Dad”s slide rule, and his old stamp book, after 41 years, and a beatup bench he helped me put together. And some storage shelves, ditto. And a note of his to my mother, and some articles he wrote. It’s ok, they remind me of him and we either do not need the space they take up or they are still useful. Oh, I forgot the stack of shelves on our son Matt”s apartment that we absolutely refuse to allow his caregivers to touch. Plus toys from Vienna that my brother has and will not throw out. Let the next generation worry about this stuff when we go.

  2. Nothing visible lasts. I went back to my home town a few months back after not having been there for 10 years. While there I kept getting lost. I’ve always relied heavily on visual anchors/landmarks because of my hearing issue but nothing was the same anymore. It gave me an adrift/lost feeling. But there were still ghosts everywhere that would jump out at me when I least expected it. My dad is also one of those watch wearing people. He also carries handkerchiefs. I can’t imagine why handkerchiefs went out of fashion, lol.

      1. No. I visited the only friend who had kept contact over the years. She helped me set up my blog cause I had no idea how to use WordPress. I’m getting better but I still can’t seem to edit my About page that cheesily says “Meet Melanie” like I’m some sort of weirdo talking about myself. She meant well and I’m flattered that she thinks I’m so cool. No I have no nostalgia for that place.

      2. I just figured out how to edit that page after 3 hours of fiddling, lol. So it no longer reads like I’m trying to sell myself. But next time I have an issue I’ll be sure to ask you instead of driving back to the old country for help. Thanks!

  3. I felt a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat as I read this. I am just sending you a comforting hug , Ben. Hang in there. Your memories are your beautiful presents.

  4. When you talk about your papa, I always remember my Dad. The picture of the watch you have shown also reminds me of a smiliar one my dad used to wear always. I had bought him a new one once, but he insisted on wearing that old one. I guess there is just something about Dads and their watches. I feel it was something that just defined them as a man. To have a good watch, to feel respected. Stay blessed ❤️💐

      1. Oh no no…. He’s still there!!… But he’s right now back home with my mum, and brother…
        I just miss Dad when I read your posts… My father is a good man, and you always remind me about that…😊💐 Thanks for asking!! 🤗

  5. Ghosts jumping out after visiting your old town. That’s weird, what was it like living there Melanie?
    I’m telling you right now I’m sitting and counting in my head all the watches I own, and I’m trying to visualize each one of them because they are not stacked in one place. In fact one is still in it’s original case, I only wore it once. My late husband and I had a thing for watches and clocks. He grew up with a cuckoo clock and so did I. If I think about it our community loved watches. We had quite a few watch repair shops in the town I grew up, I called them watchmakers, for me they were, not just watch repairs. When I wanted a watch fixed I would travel with it to my old time. Tried and tested the old repairs shop would do a great job. Gosh I could rave about all the skills that existed in my old town.
    I dont wear my watches much these days, it’s not the same I’ve set one aside for the occasion when I need to smart one but otherwise they are sweet memories, all my husbands too, ever so often i would rub and shine them it does the soul good, like all the other mementos, wallets and bags too. They all full of stories one leather purse stores old love letters. Maybe my grandson will do something with the mementoes some day. I carried my dad’s furniture with me all over the place, so a couple of watches letters wallets and purses shouldn’t be too difficult to follow him wherever they go.
    Oh I got lost in your story David, I would wear the old watch anytime make it part of my regular accessory, to all my jewelry there are so many memories.

    Voila!!!!!…out of the blue that bottle will be opened and you will immediately know it is the right time.

    1. I don’t think I realized how sentimental I am in this way until Papa died… it’s so strange to feel attached to objects because I’m generally not very materialistic – owning things and buying new things has never been my inclination.

      Thank you for sharing your story and being supportive, Abi.👐🏻

      1. I have great understanding for the sentimentality.
        You welcome dear, it is a sweet support believe me. Thank you for providing a space to talk about mementos and sentimental in this way.

    2. I just saw your question about ghosts jumping out everywhere in my town. I know that it’s a strange way of putting it. I guess I’m kind of sensitive and feel the presence of unresolved wrongs. Not even really wrongs against myself but other weaker ones. It’s why I can’t go back to stay really. People there don’t want things stirred up but I feel them all the time and can’t ignore it. It was a religious community – Mennonite. I read a short poem on your blog. It said “Later that night I held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered “where does it hurt?” It answered “everywhere”, “everywhere”, “everywhere”. It’s sort of like that – hungry hurting ghosts.

      1. Ok, I’m just beginning to get concerned if it is a serious and honest chapter by now with the type of responses springing up.
        Ghost is a childish response, mere verbosity, quite impish too.
        What has the community to do with your personal grief?

      2. The answer to that question would be either too short and vague which could run the risk of being misinterpreted as impish or too long and verbose. I think Ben Alexander who I initially wrote the word ghost to knows what I meant by it as he is more familiar with my story. I do struggle with being wordy in the often difficult search for the right words. I could apologize for that but it’s sort of like apologizing for missing an arm or having a stutter.

      3. Melanie, you know you can call me ‘David’.

        Abi, I do 100% vouch for Melanie, and her story truly is an especially difficult one – context is necessary to appreciate the meaning of her comment above.

      4. This makes me really sad as I don’t wish to win anything and don’t understand what the competition was. I wish you all the best.

      5. Wishing you all the best too. I grappled with your contribution to a very personal encounter with grief.

  6. “What is it that I am waiting for?” I think you are waiting for me to join you for a drink ! 😋 Nice memories and nice write up !! 👍🤝

  7. A heartfelt and honest piece Ben. There is something about a loved one’s watch, in my opinion. So much symbolism. Things happen, but I am sorry your irreplaceable beloved object was damaged. We broke a few of my mother-in-law’s items while moving them after she passed, and a storage unit of her belongings was stolen. They are just things, but it is painful when those things belong to someone no longer with us. Thank you for sharing. 💓

    1. Yeah. My grandfather had a model rocket that his workers made for him back in the USSR before he moved to Israel, and I loved that rocket ever since I laid eyes on it as a child. It was intended to be mine, but when they moved into a new apartment, it broke… and then he died (years later) and – no rocket for me. 🚀 💔

  8. I have two giant boxes filled of my grandmother’s shoes (in addition to all the shoes I owned before she passed) and I’m realizing now that they don’t all fit, and I have far too many shoes, but I feel uncomfortable giving them away.

    When my other grandparents passed, I got their meat dishes, in part because we needed more fleshig dishes. But I got mad at my husband when he used them, even though that was literally the reason why we have them.

    My friend gave me a dress years ago (actually, she wanted me to give it back to her at some indeterminate point, but I never did; it just slipped both our minds.) I never really found the right opportunity to wear it. When she died, I went over to return the key I had to her house and her partner invited me to look though her closet and take clothes of hers that would fit me. I picked out clothing, things I really liked and I knew she’d be happy seeing them worn, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to wear anything I took after she died. The dress she loaned me, the one I was supposed to give back, that I wore the Yom Kippur after her death.

    Such an odd and difficult relationship we have with the things, the artifacts.

    1. The dress she loaned me, the one I was supposed to give back, that I wore the Yom Kippur after her death.

      😭 That’s really sad 😭

      Thank you so much for sharing and being supportive.

      1. Yom Kippur was about 3 weeks after she died. During break fast, a fellow congregant asked me if I knew her (there was a considerable age gap between us, so a close friendship might not have been assumed). I was like, Knew her? I’m literally wearing her clothes right now!

        I’ve been planning to write a blog post about this at some point.

  9. Interesting indeed. Once I started getting electric shocks on touching a metal, but I still remain cautious.

  10. I appreciate this genuine sharing, and am very sorry you have lost your father. I think grief is a very complicated process and one that unfolds as it unfolds. There is no set or perfect way. I am glad are writing.

  11. This is a emotional piece. I really connected with this.very heart felt. How you adored your dads watch and tired to keep it safe… Maybe you can get the glass removed where it cracked and get a new glass.

    This was something way more than a blog to you. I can clearly tell. You are attaching onto the things and sentiments of your dad.

    It was a truly beautiful what you shared. Sometimes waiting seems endless and it’s all in the head.

    1. Thanks so much for the support.

      I’m actually considering getting the watch fixed, but I haven’t pursued that yet. Maybe when COVID-19 dies down…

  12. I recently took the watch of my mother z”l to be fixed by some hobblydoo watchmaker in Yafo. Huge mistake. He pretty much broke damaged it beyond repair. Take care with these items. Luckily I still have my mum’s dressing gown which I spend all shabbos in.

      1. Yeah. A friend of mine is marking her father’s yahrzeit tonight… she’ll probably go on Zoom with her children and drink to him together. On a normal year, she’d be at shul for kaddish.

      2. yeah. I keep on thinking how thankful I am that I completed my year of kaddish well before COVID-19 erupted. It would have been horrible not to have that social and spiritual crutch after Papa’s death.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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