We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake. — Maria B. Ray
“How come I never have enough time?”
I plunked my zippered leatherette notebook, my Spanish textbook, and my baton on the kitchen table, sighed dramatically and peered above the sink at the Black Forest cuckoo clock with its pine cone weights.
Mama looked up from the pie crust she was rolling out. “There’s always enough time,” she said. “It’s how you use it that makes the difference.”
“Well, I don’t have enough. Here it is nearly eight o’clock in the morning, and I have to practice my baton routine for the class parade, finish my homework and then walk twenty blocks to work. And I don’t want to be late.” I thumbed through a few pages of El Camino Real before tossing it back down, and then glanced toward Mama.
I’d been complaining for months about lacking a wristwatch, and I could see by Mama’s furrowed brow that she suspected I was leading up to another pitch. I pitched anyway.
“At least if I had a watch I wouldn’t have to worry,” I said.
Mama just laughed, fluting the edges of the crust. “A watch wouldn’t give you more time and it certainly will not eliminate worry. It just would remind you that this very minute is the only minute you have right now.”
I shook my head as Mama popped her pie into the oven. Mama could be cryptic. I’d learned over the years, though, to listen closely because a lot of the time she was right. But most of the girls in my class already had wristwatches and I thought it unfair that I did not. When I’d groused that I felt naked without one, Daddy reminded me that we had little money to spare for what he considered frippery.
The clock cuckooed and I frowned at the little bird that emerged from its trap door. I grabbed my baton and headed for the yard for an hour of practice, then finished my homework before hiking off to work.
I earned barely enough from my part-time job as a counter girl at the Owl Drug Store soda fountain to cover the cost of a pair of shoes when they were on sale, my Scian social club dues, and an occasional matinee. But in those halcyon pre-digital days, when I earned the hourly minimum wage of sixty cents plus tips, I couldn’t hope to save enough for a watch. I’d longed for one for Christmas but got a badly needed coat instead. At least it was red, my favorite color, which helped brighten my spirits.
“Graduation comes up in June,” Mama kept reminding me. But June seemed a lifetime away, not just a few brief months.
A dozen years later, a garage fire consumed the cardboard train case stuffed with most of my childhood and adolescent mementos. That horrific conflagration devoured, among other treasures, my first majorette costume, my Girls Athletic Club letter, my sixth-grade autograph book, and even some rudimentary love letters from a ninth-grade admirer. My husband and young son consoled me then as I grieved, reminding me that I still had all my old photos, which had been stored in the house. Even so, it seemed as if my past had gone up in smoke.
Fortunately, I had culled a few trinkets from my school years and put them aside in a baby blue wallet-sized satin-lined jewelry box that I had tucked into a bedroom dresser drawer. That was an additional comfort.
Recently when I was writing a note on a step-grandson’s graduation card, I thought of my own graduation. I went upstairs and found that sprung-lidded box with my forgotten cache.
Opening it, I first spied the majestic Quill and Scroll pin from the International Honor Society for High School Journalists. I recalled all those early morning hours in the print shop reading last-minute page proofs for the Manual Arts Daily. When I finally made assistant editor, I had delighted in assigning stories to the cub reporters. Years later for a while I taught high school journalism.
I pulled out my Scian medallion, a souvenir of my beloved club that dedicated itself with near-equal fervor to community service and ice cream socials. I remembered a blissful July week when a few mothers chaperoned so we could rent a beach house at Balboa Bay, where we spent timeless days floating on paddle boards. I had feasted on tacos for the first time at the old Fun Zone. I still credit Scians for my continuing love of the sea, Tex-Mex cuisine, and for volunteering to help the less fortunate.
Next, I rubbed my finger across a zircon-studded clip-on earring, once part of a pair. In my mind’s eye, I saw the sweet but elusive midshipman who gave me this Christmas gift halfway through my senior year. He had been home for the holiday from Annapolis, and I’d hoped to be pinned, but received the earrings instead. I remembered long evenings lounging in his yellow Nash Rambler pondering what our respective futures might hold. I prattled about longing for a picket fence and honeysuckle, while he talked of piloting jets in faraway lands.
At the bottom of the box, I found my old 16 jewel Elgin wristwatch, minus its stem. It ceased ticking decades ago, despite several retreats to the repair shop. Even with a scratched crystal and tarnished gilt, its elegance still shines through, ornate mid-century gold numbers and hands, and scalloped flourishes at each end of the delicate case. I wore it for years before I finally surrendered to technology and bought my first battery-operated Timex.
I remembered the proud look on Mama’s face when she’d handed me the beribboned gift box just before we left the house to go to my long-awaited high school graduation ceremony in June 1954.
“You’ll never have to worry again about time,” she announced, with a wry smile.
I realized then that Mama had been right. Somehow, despite my worries, everything got done. Through my senior year, I twirled my way around the football stadium for the parade, passed my Spanish tests, showed up at the drugstore in time for my shifts, and chanced upon a new boyfriend, luckily a stay-at-home who drove his dad’s Cadillac and admitted to acrophobia.
I went on to college, married, had a child, worked, went back to college, divorced, remarried, and in between shopped for graduation gifts for children and then grandchildren.
I returned my precious delicate slender-banded Elgin to the box. Countless wristwatches later, well into my eighth decade, I realize I’ve finally finished worrying about time. And I think I’ve used mine well.
I wish I’d paid more attention to Mama earlier on. She understood that the present is what’s important. I understand that now, too, and it’s about time.
About the Author
Terri Elders, LCSW, is a lifelong writer and editor. Her stories have appeared in over a hundred anthologies, including multiple editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s a co-creator for Not Your Mother’s Book, an anthology series from Publishing Syndicate. Terri, who received the 2006 UCLA Alumni award for community service for her work internationally with Peace Corps, served for eight years as a public member of the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission. Contact her at email@example.com and read her blog www.atouchoftarragon.blogspot.com.