My great grandfather raised my father.
The home that my great grandfather and grandmother lived in is on 44th and Court and is now occupied by W.R. Wilkins Tax Accountant. They died when I was five or six, and they loved each other deeply. Grandma and Grandpa Terrell died of natural causes on the same day and within minutes of each other.
Both my mom and dad talked to me a lot about how much my great grandfather loved me, and how I followed him and his dog around like the proverbial puppy.
Perhaps on a spiritual level somewhere that love figures into this story.
When my great grandfather died, my father wanted his gold watch. He believed with all of his heart that Grandpa Terrell wanted him to have that watch. His aunt would not part with it.
For years he pleaded for the watch and finally she relented and gave it to him.
Years later, my father got deeply into family history and traced the Wolcott family lineage back to when Henry Wolcott first landed on the shores of the new world in the 1600s. That new love of family history prompted my father to believe that his grandfather’s watch should go back to the Terrell family.
My great uncle Harden Terrell and his wife Marge lived in a brick house that sits next door to W.R. Wilkins. It is now covered with siding. My dad decided to give the watch to Uncle Harden to pass on to one of his two sons.
By the way, dad’s name is Buzz Wolcott. It’s Charles Gordon Wolcott officially, but everyone called him Buzz. He graduated from Pasco High School and was a great athlete who received an inspirational award trophy for his football prowess.
Toward the end of his life, my father was an emotional guy. So when he parted with the watch, I suspect he did so with some tears. Uncle Harden had to know giving up the watch cost my dad a great deal of emotional pain.
A few years later Dad asked Uncle Harden which of his sons got the watch. He said neither of them wanted it. So he sold the watch to a dentist.
What a creep!
I heard all of this a few years after the sale, and by that time, Uncle Harden was dead and my dad had settled in Molalla, Ore. It infuriated me. No one messes with my family anyway, and for him to be so callous about something that meant so much to my father was more than I could bear. I was angry times 10.
And I couldn’t get that betrayal out of my mind. He sold that precious watch, the watch that my father knew deep in his heart that his grandfather wanted him to have, to a watch collector.
I started making phone calls and devoted spare time over the next couple of years to finding that dentist. My step-mom gave me the first real break when she told me that Harden told her the dentist was across the street from his home.
I looked, but the office wasn’t that obvious, so it took another few months to find the guy. Once I found the office, I stopped in and asked to meet with the dentist. His staff would not let me. So I wrote him a long note explaining about the watch, my great uncle and my great grandfather.
I stopped by a second time a few months later and did the same thing. Nothing. No call. No comment.
One day, I got a phone call at work from Dr. so and so. “I have your watch,” he said. “Watch? You’re a doctor? And you have my watch?” I replied forgetting all about the query. Then the light flashed. THE watch.
He made me schedule an appointment. When I got there he had two gold watches. One of them — and he couldn’t remember which — belonged to my great grandfather. The dentist, and please forgive me, I do not remember his name, was a nice man. He loved and respected family and understood my desire to return the watch to my father. He gave me both watches to take to my dad. I paid for one, and he trusted that I would return the one that didn’t belong.
The watch, by the way, is beautiful and very heavy. It is just plain gold, no frills. Old things feel good. Old doorknobs and keys have an indescribable feel. It’s like we leave little pieces of our selves everywhere we go and things like keys, doorknobs and pocket watches collect those pieces. They just feel good.
That watch felt good. The man who owned it, my great grandfather, had a lot of love in him.
Flash back. It’s 1989 and my aunt — my father’s only sister — died. At her service, my three cousins stood up and read beautiful letters to their mother. It made me wonder if they ever wrote such wonderful things to her. And did she know?
The dentist and I met up near Christmas. So I thought I would give my father two presents that year. His grandfather’s watch and a letter from me telling him just how important his life is to mine. I won’t bore you with the details, but in that letter I said everything I am and much of the success I have in life I owe to my dad.
Among other more personal things, I wrote that his work ethic, his honesty, his courage and his fearless ability to take on the impossible and win are things that I got from him. And those skills have served me well.
I gave the letter to my dad at Christmas, and he cried. It meant so much to him that he framed the letter and it hung on a wall in his home until the day he died.
Then, I gave him that very special package. Typical of my father he said that I shouldn’t have bought him something for Christmas, he didn’t need anything, etc.
“Dad, I needed to get you this,” I said. “I couldn’t not get this for you.”
Then, he opened the package. The first of the two watches that fell out of the box was my grandfather’s. Years later it is hard to write about this and not tear up. If I live to be 500 years old, I will never forget the look on his face when the watch fell out of that box and into his hand.
He couldn’t talk for the longest time and sat there looking at the watch as the tears rolled down his cheeks. He’d look at me. He’d look at the watch. And he couldn’t talk.
Finally. “How did you get this?”
“Dad, when you told me that story and about the watch and what Uncle Harden did, it just pissed me off,” I said. “It made me madder than I think I have ever been in my life, and I just had to find that watch and get it back to you.”
During the remaining years of his life, my father and I talked often about the watch. It is a story he liked to tell, and it is one I like to tell. In one of our last conversations about the watch, Dad said, “I just knew that my grandfather wanted me to have that watch. I knew it on the day he died.”
“Yes, he did,” I replied. “And even when the watch got away from you, it came back. So there is no doubt in my mind that the watch was meant to be yours.”
On that Christmas day, my father spent hours sitting and staring at the watch. No doubt remembering the love of the wonderful man who raised him. Much like I am sitting here today remembering the love of the man who raised me.
The day he gave me the watch, my dad said, “You know, when I die, this is yours.”
“Of course,” I said, “It is mine. I am now part of its story. We both loved Grandpa Terrell and he loved both of us. And I believe he is looking down on us now satisfied that this is how it should be. Maybe he even had a hand in helping me find it for you.”
And now the watch is mine.
None of this has anything to do with movies. It does, however, have to do with love. My father and I more or less hated each other the whole time I was growing up. We clashed on everything: music, lifestyle, drugs, women, career, politics, family.
In my 30s, he decided for some reason to reach out to me and see if we could put together a relationship. My positive response is one of the few wise things I have done in my life.
My father was my best friend. I was out of work and just doing the movie column during the last three years of his life so I got to spend a lot of time with him. We saw each other nearly every day and watched basketball or football, worked on things around his house, played lots of cards, talked about family and laughed.
We laughed a lot.
My father died May 14, 2003, just 11 days after his 74th birthday. And I miss him every day.