The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Our First Watches

By Hughes E. Robinson © 1990

Issue: May, 1990

Our father was an avid reader of the Kansas City Star, which arrived daily at our farm home. The news was at least a week old by the time the paper reached our mailbox, but our father, when reminded of this fact by our mother, responded, "If you've not read it, it's news, no matter how old it is!" Since we had no radio or television, this newspaper was our link with the outside world and all readers in the family digested its contents.

At this time, in the late twenties, our father was very much interested in the planned flight of Charles Augustus Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop. He read the news with disbelief and disgust, muttering, "If the Good Lord had meant for man to fly, He would have put wings on him. That young fellar will drown when his airplane engine stops and the whole thing goes down in the ocean. Such contraptions are just toys for rich men and boys to play with, not to travel all these miles across the ocean." This was, no doubt, his way of expressing concern for the safety of the flyer.

A later edition of the newspaper informed us that the first solo transatlantic flight had been successful and that this daring exploit had become world-wide news. The twenty-five-year-old Lindbergh was an overnight national hero and had received a prize of $25,000.00. My brother and I had also been interested in this event and had adopted this celebrity as our hero.

We could hardly overlook the picture of an Ingersoll watch commemorating this flight. The watch had a leather chain and a fob, but the eye-catching feature was a picture of Lindbergh on one side of the fob and on the other side was a picture of his airplane, "Spirit of St. Louis." We were fascinated by this picture and studied it for hours, deciding that each of us must possess one of these watches. The postpaid price was $1.19, which neither of us had. We went in to conference with our mother about the possibility of her buying the watches for us. She informed us, without hesitation that she had no money for such luxuries, and if we earned the money to buy them ourselves, the watches would be more valuable. At the time, we did not understand the meaning of this statement.

Determined to have this watch, we went job hunting and were hired by a neighbor to shuck corn on Saturdays during the fall and early winter months. We worked harder and faster on our usual home chores after school so our father would permit us to earn money on Saturday. Our pay was five cents a shock, and each shock produced about five bushels of ears of corn. After shucking, we tied the fodder in bundles, and then set them upright in shocks to be fed later to cattle. We carried the heavy baskets of corn and stored them in the corncrib. We could shuck only two shocks a day, working from daylight to dark, taking time out for a quick lunch that our mother had packed for us.

By the time this project was finished, we had earned fifty cents each, so we must find other ways to make money if we were ever to have $1.19 each. After lengthy discussions with each other and realizing the days were now shorter and the nights longer, we took a night job catching 'possums. During several outings and with the help of our cooperative dog, we had a total of twelve hides stretched and nailed on drying boards high on the walls of the smokehouse out of reach of dogs and varmints. We were elated with the fruits of our labor, and since the hides were large and would bring twelve cents each when delivered to a fur buyer in Raven, we could vision ourselves becoming fairly rich. There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of small fur-bearing animals in spite of the competition with neighboring hunters.

After many countings and re-countings, we had the required amount of money for two Ingersoll watches with six cents left over! We eagerly delivered the money to our mother, who wrote the order, then a check. I, the older, had been entrusted to keep the address that we had cut out of the newspaper. Folded to fit the top pocket of my bib overalls, each wash day, it was removed, opened and read, then transferred to the pocket of the clean overalls. Now it was removed and handed to our mother. Even after the watches were ordered, the address was kept in a little box in the back of the top bureau drawer in our room.

The two weeks allowed for arrival were never-ending. Then, finally, the waiting was over! With my pocket knife I gently cut the strings that held the wrapping on the package, removed the crushed newspaper that had cushioned and protected the two boxes that contained our Lindbergh watches. With extreme care, we each opened a box and eased out its contents for observation and admiration. A more beautiful sight had never been seen! There was our hero on one side of the fob, his Spirit of St. Louis on the other, just like we had read in the newspaper many months ago, exactly like it, only much shinier! As we carefully handled them, turning each over and over for closer inspection, it was beyond belief that we were sole owners of these magnificent watches. Our mother's words now had meaning!

I could tell time, but my brother could not, so he often removed the watch from his bib pocket, sometimes just to look at, but would announce the numbers to which the big hand and the little hand pointed. In due time, he learned to tell time with accuracy and informed anyone in his presence the correct time. Our father told us to wind our watches at the same time every day so they would last longer. Each morning at six o'clock, in unison, we would our precious watches, and as absurd as this may seem, I still wind my watch as the same time; six a.m.

We never tired of looking to see what time it was; we noted the time it took to hoe one row of corn as compared to the time for the next row. Walking and running certain distances were timed; chores done at one time were timed against the next. We timed how long it took the hogs to eat, the time it took the horses to drink water, and the time it took a lamb to gulp down a bottle of warm milk. It became a contest to see whose lamb could empty its bottle the quickest. My brother observed that when the lambs wagged their tails, they drank faster. Thus, the tail-waggers were obvious winners!

Our uncle, who lived with us, often became vexed with us for so much time-keeping. He reminded us that we killed too much time, for most of our activities were time-oriented; fifteen minutes to milk a cow, ten minutes to fill the coal buckets and carry them inside, twenty minutes to walk to Sloan's Store, thirteen minutes to pump water for household use, and whatever other duties we performed.

One fall day, when chestnuts were brown and ready for gathering, my brother and I climbed the big chestnut tree across the creek near our house. We steadied ourselves on strong branches and holding on to overhead branches; we jumped up and down so the nuts would fall from the open burs to the leaf-covered ground. We had done this many times before without mishap, but my brother lost his balance and his handhold, and as the chestnuts fell, so did he! I was out of the tree and by his side, offering consolation. He cried uncontrollably, not from injuries, but from damage done to his Ingersoll watch, which he was holding in the palm of one hand. The watch had fallen out of the pocket, and the crystal had come off. I began a search of the area, picking up chestnuts as I looked. With much physical pain and deep heartbreak, my brother slowly pulled himself to his knees to assist in the task at hand. Cautiously moving dry leaves and burs and watching where I placed my feet as I moved, we hunted with keen eyes and wary hands and finally found the crystal, unharmed! I assured him that it could be put back good as new by our mother, because she could do ANYTHING! He put the crystal in his deepest pocket, holding the pocket closed with one hand and holding onto my shoulder as he limped beside me to the house, still crying. Dropping the sack, that held few chestnuts, beside the steps leading to the kitchen, I supported my brother as the story was related to our mother, who had rushed out when she heard the crying. After a thorough examination, she pronounced him in good shape except for bruises from the fall and a few scratches from the chestnut burs and ground briers. As he slowly stopped whimpering, and as our mother applied Cloverine salve to the painful spots, she informed me that I would have to do his chores, because he would be laid-up for several days.

Our oldest brother had listened and watched through the screen door. He came to our aid, saying he had some glue that might hold the crystal in place, so he performed this operation with utmost care, warning my brother that it would have to "set-up" overnight to dry. Hearing the words of caution from the brother, who had suddenly gained respect from us; my younger brother asked if it would be ready by six o'clock in the morning, because he would have to wind it so it would last longer. Being assured that it should be ready for use by then, he hobbled upstairs and placed the repaired watch in a safe place on the top of the bureau in our room, to be wound at the right hour.

My brother took advantage of the reprieve our mother had given him from his daily chores and did nothing but look at his watch and play as I did the work after school. I did his part without grumbling, because I could have been the unfortunate one, and it could have been my watch that was damaged!

I don't know what became of my brother's watch, but when I entered military service in 1941, I was still carrying my Lindbergh watch and showing it proudly to my Air Force buddies, relating the story, in complete detail. It died of old age and stopped running in 1945. It is buried in a small discolored box with other childhood keepsakes, and now and then, I remove it to recall pleasant memories. It has lost its shine, and the pictures of the handsome aviator and his famed monoplane are faded beyond recognition, but the remembrance of that first picture is as distinct as it was on the day when it was seen by two young farm boys, who, like their father, were readers of the Kansas City Star.