Gary Simms – The Dollar Watch

“Come on boys, let’s go out and hoe the beans,” our dad called to us three boys.  We had never hoed beans before.  So my two older brothers and I, dressed only in a pair of overalls, a shirt and a straw hat, followed dad with our hoes to the bean field on our small eight acre farm a mile and a half southeast of Ceres, California.  There he showed us that we not only had to hoe the weeds, but also had to chop out enough bean plants to space the remaining plants about ten inches to a foot apart.  We each took a row of beans and started hoeing. 

In the early morning, cool, damp summer air, we could smell the dew on the bean plants and on the  trees on our irrigation ditch bank behind us.  There was no way we could keep up with dad, as he was really moving with his hoe, but not for long.  He stopped suddenly, got a thoughtful look on his face and said, “I just remembered that I have to call Mr. Cooper about a wiring job.”

He left the three of us and took off for the house.  We had been through that justification before.  He may have made a phone call, but if we were to check on him, which we had sneaked and done in the past, we would find him sitting at the kitchen table eating a dish of his home made ice cream, while the three of us boys were out in the bean field slowly hoeing.

As the sun rose higher and the day got hotter, we kept a close watch to the location of our shadow.  None of us had a watch, so we had to depend on the sun to let us know when to quit and go to lunch.  I stopped and stood my hoe handle as vertical as I could, and then we all looked at the shadow, and discussed whether it was noon or not.  As the time got closer to noon, one of us would stop and shadow his hoe handle every so often. 

Actually we got pretty good at telling time with our hoe handle.  Now you probably think this story is about hoeing beans, but it isn’t.  It’s about telling time.

As a kid, I always dreamed of having a watch of my very own.  I did  have a broken alarm clock, that I would take apart and put back together again.  I liked to watch the gears turn.  Even though the clock didn’t run, it was one of my favorite toys. 

We had a neighbor that was a watch repairman.  He also had a cow and a few other farm animals.  One day his cow got out, and I saw the situation and herded his cow back into it’s pen.  The man found out what I had done, and promised me a watch. 

I hadn’t expected him to give me anything for getting his cow in, but that sure sounded good to me. It wasn’t long until I realized that the man wasn’t going to give me a watch.  Him saying that he was going to give me a watch, was just his way of saying, “thanks” and that was the end of it.

Then one day someone had a dollar watch that had quit running and he asked me if I wanted it.  Boy, was I happy.  I took the watch apart, cleaned, oiled and reassembled it.  To my surprise it ran and kept good time.  I now proudly had a pocket watch of my very own.  I carried that dollar watch in my pocket all through High School.

Then when I joined the army during WWII, I still carried that watch.  Our outfit ended up on Oahu, Hawaii.  One day near the end of the war, we were driven to the beach on the north side of the island to go swimming.  While we were enjoying a swim in the warm ocean water, someone went through the building where our clothes were, and took all the watches.  They even took my Dollar Watch.  I know that watch wasn’t worth very much, but I sure hated to lose it.

Since Uncle Sam was paying me $54 a month, plus providing my room and board, to sleep on an army cot with a mosquito net over it, in a five man tent, and eat army grub, I now had money and could afford to buy a watch to replace the old dollar watch.  I bought a very attractive gold colored wrist watch.  It didn’t keep time as well as the old dollar watch and didn’t last as long or tick as loud either. 

I now have a cheap digital watch that is very quiet and far more accurate, as it only gains about a minute in six months.  And you know, I kind of miss the gears and the ticking of the old watches.

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