Reprinted from December 1997
They say one shouldn’t talk about other people and one shouldn’t talk about the dead who can’t defend themselves. So if one is going to get any satisfaction in life by discussing those who make his life miserable or unhappy or are just annoying, when is this supposed to be done? I came into adult life with an assortment of relatives on both sides to make up for any void I felt in my life for this sort of thing.
Mother Williams was from Louisiana. She was and had been very attractive, which might have accounted for the propensity she had to get her way and to maintain certain aspects of her life style others might have been less likely to do. She was very out spoken.
RB told his mother early on that she should always buy Swiss wristwatches. She would listen attentively and repeat everything he said naming off the more popular Swiss brands such as Bulova and Benrus, all the garden variety of watches. In those days we didn’t own a store and RB didn’t sell watches himself.
One day his mother showed up at his place of employment to show him a watch she’d purchased. It was a Hamilton. RB sighed and said, “Well it is pretty mom, but you should have bought a Swiss watch.”
She pouted slightly and said, “But this is a very good watch. The jeweler where I bought it told me so.”
RB just passed it off and went about his business and of course he inherited the problems innate in those standard wind Lady Hamilton watches. Finally with a stroke of luck, Mother Williams went fishing and in a flurry of excitement the watch was permanently lost.
RB reiterated his feelings about standard brands of watches. One has to understand this was in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and quartz watches were not even thought of. He repeated to her the need to buy a watch which would give good service as well as be easy to work on and obtain parts for. He even guided her to a store for which he did trade work.
Within a few days she proudly displayed a new watch showing it off to friends and family. It was an Elgin. RB was in a huff. He repeated what he’d told his mom and once again she pouted and looked hurt and told him what a fine watch the man had said it was. RB said unkind little things under his breath. It was about two weeks later when she brought the watch to him to staff. I recall he ordered about a dozen staffs because he knew she was going to be a regular visitor with that Elgin she was so proud of.
A few years went by before fate smiled again on RB. By this time RB was selling watches. Even though he assured his mother he’d get her a new watch at cost or less, it was obvious she didn’t trust him. So when her beloved Elgin went through one of the first automatic washers she’d ever owned, she secretly visited a newly opened catalog showroom. She knew almost instinctively how to annoy him it seems.
She came to our shop one afternoon in a jubilant mood – I thought she’d won an automobile being raffled off by the local church. She was sporting a rose gold Lady Waltham. RB was speechless and annoyed and he pointed out to his mother these American made watches were pretty, but you get a much better watch for the money with a Swiss watch. Mother Williams pouted appropriately and gave a subtle little sniff and put her Waltham on and left.
I had to sympathize with RB during those years. I noted he patiently put balance staffs in each of the watches she owned with only minor outer annoyance. He pointed out he could work on three Bulovas in the time it took him to staff and clean one Elgin or Hamilton, which always seemed in need of a new staff.
Just before we opened our first store, Mother Williams brought a new watch in she’d bought while visiting her other son, a physician. He had told her to buy a Gruen because it was one of the best watches in the world and she proudly showed it off to RB who tucked his chin in and pretended not to be angry. It made perfect sense to me. Just two days previously, RB and mother Williams had engaged in a two-hour conversation discussing which medications each thought the other ought to be taking. I recall the physician brother became so annoyed with this practice that he quit prescribing for either one of them which he’d been doing as a favor.
Time went on and I recall RB and his mother had many disagreements. One of the most memorable took place after RB had gained many titles for appraising and taken all kinds of schooling. By then we had opened a bona fide jewelry store. Mother Williams took her treasures to another jeweler to be appraised. I guess the other guy was a bit embarrassed by her praises of RB while at the same time seeking his services, but we never heard first hand. When RB pinned his mother down on why she’d gone elsewhere she told him sweetly that he just repaired watches and didn’t do other stuff.
Mother Williams and RB went many rounds in their lives and she lived to be a ripe old age. She died suddenly and because of this she hadn’t made any arrangements for her jewelry. It was placed in a tray and the children and grand children were allowed to pick out what they wanted. There in the assortment were three Timex watches and nested under the pile of baubles was the treasured Gruen. I touched them and said, “Maybe you take these and use them for parts.” RB snorted and smiled. “Not a chance.” He proclaimed. “Those things are probably haunted with memories. I never want to fix them or anything reminding me of them again!”
Three weeks later one of her grandchildren appeared at our counter with the watches. She appealed to RB to repair these old watches in memory of Mother Williams. Some memories can’t be subdued in spite of good intentions! I knew Mother Williams was right here with us protecting her treasures!