The Pocket Watch

If you could speak to one family member who has passed on, who would you pick?

On my mother’s side, both her parents’ families are fascinating and there are many intriguing relatives from which to choose. I’ve already written about them to some extent in the post Big Shoes To Fill:

“Both families contain nothing but well-educated professionals – doctors, lawyers, politicians. On my grandfather’s side, my great-grandfather was a superior court judge. One of my relatives founded University of Michigan law school. Another, a woman, founded and was mayor of a major city in Michigan that still thrives today. One of my relatives was a doctor who helped pioneer gene research. His descendant was private physician for King Faisal of Saudi Arabia for seven years.

My grandmother’s side of the family is no less prestigious, yet slightly more creative in their endeavors. My great-uncle, my favorite, was best friends with Norman Rockwell, and played trumpet for Count Basie and Duke Ellington. His daughter, a successful artist, was used as the model for one of the six iterations of the Morton Salt girl. One of my grandmother’s brothers invented the machine that wraps individual slices of cheese. My grandmother’s cousin wrote quite a few successful spy novels under no less than half a dozen pseudonyms, some of which, no doubt, most of the American public is quite familiar.”

Perhaps I’d choose one of them. I’d like to meet the relatives I never met nor would have since we live in different eras. Perhaps I’d choose my great-to-infinity grandfather or someone with more greats in front of their relational title than one could count. I bet they all have stories to tell.

On my father’s side, most of my relatives are Finns living in Finland. I don’t speak Finnish so that would be a very stilted conversation. Although, unlike Americans who tend to only speak one language, most Finns speak English, so maybe not.

Realistically, I’d probably choose my own grandfather, my mother’s father. He died of a heart attack precisely one year to the day before I was born. My birthday is also the anniversary of his death. Everyone who knew him says he was a lot like me. He was hard-headed, wryly funny, intelligent and quite the ham. We seem to differ on motivation though since he had his own successful business and I’m still struggling.

I think I’d like to meet the man about whom my mother, and before she passed, my grandmother had so many funny stories to tell. For instance the time he was playing poker with his hunting buddies in our cabin in the woods when a brown bear came calling and hilarity ensued.

Nearly every leisurely picture we have of him, he’s wearing the same well-worn pair of Levi’s jeans. He called them his sooners. If you asked him why, he would reply, “Because I’d sooner wear these than any other trousers.” I have a pair of sooners, too.

My mother was awfully fond of her father, but at the same time, she had great, almost fearful, respect for him. I’d like to sit down and share a beer with him. I’d like to hear him tell me the stories with which I’m so familiar first-hand. I bet he had many more that my mother and grandmother weren’t privy to. If nothing else, I’d like to meet him simply because the only ties I have to the man are my genes, some well-traveled, second-hand stories, my sooners and his gold and mother of pearl pocket watch engraved with his name and the date 1937.