I'm often puzzled by products and inventions that everyone must have, but for which I have no use. Watches for example. Almost every man wears one, yet I haven't had a use for one in over 30 years. If you look around, clocks are everywhere---in your car, on your phone, and in every public place. They're built into your stove, microwave, TV, computer... so why strap one to your wrist?
Although I've never been arrested and have no intention of finding out what it's like to wear handcuffs, to me it would feel a lot like wearing two watches. That perception alone is enough for me to commit to a life of civil obedience.
As unnecessary as I find watches to be in this world, I have to confess I own one. Just one, and not just any watch. It's the gold watch my Grandfather was given when he retired from the railroad.
I don't know much about what he did for the railroad or even what railroad he worked for except that it was in Elkhart, Indiana. I also know he didn't retire completely, just from the railroad. After that he moved to Richmond, Michigan and worked at a car dealership in Detroit. The full story is now lost, but at some point the dealership swindled him out of some money, so he quit and opened Ernst Auto Sales in Richmond where he became known for his kindness, generosity and genuine compassion for people. He would often accept chickens and other farm animals as down payments on new and used Fords. Based on those values, his reputation spread and his business flourished.
I don't remember much about Grandpa Ernst except for the day and manner of his death. I was 10. As my mother recalls, he was still employed in some capacity with his dealership when a dispute developed between his company and the Ford Motor Company. I've never seen him lose his temper, but apparently he drove down to Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan and blew his stack. On his way back to his car he suffered a massive heart attack in the parking lot and died.
My grandfather on my mother's side also received a gold watch, which has been entrusted to my brother. His was awarded for many years of service to the Macomb County Road Commission. He was a legendary road-builder known throughout the Commission as "Grader Ben" because he had an eye for grading new roads to be perfectly level and crowned. He was a kind and gentle man as well. Much of what I know about being a grandpa I got from him.
Grandpa Ernst's time ran out suddenly in a parking lot at the Ford Motor Company while Grandpa Niebauer's time ran out much more slowly. Alzheimer's took him from us one memory at a time over a period of many years. I was blessed to have two grandpas that left me with precious memories of our time together. Though they were each quite different in nature, both were endearing in unique and special ways. I am doubly blessed to have had them in my childhood.
I won't have a gold watch to pass down to a grandchild that I will receive whenever I retire. Not that I don't have grandchildren; I have plenty. It's just that my employer is too cheap. I can say that because I own the company. Even though I've worked here for 20 years---longer than I have worked anywhere else---giving myself a gold watch at the end of my run would be self-serving. Not only that, but a gold watch like my grandfathers received would cost over $1000 today. I can think of a lot more things to do with a grand than that.
Working here has its own rewards that make gifting myself not only conceited, but unnecessary. My recognition, appreciation, satisfaction, and sense of purpose comes every day from those I interact with in the industry. A gold watch can't possibly express the appreciation and thanks I receive from answering technical questions, allocating time to help other organizations, and knowing the materials we create are helping people improve patient care. It's the best job I've ever had, and no engraved, gold-plated timepiece could ever reward me for my loyalty more than I'm already rewarded.
Besides, I have no use for watches.
Dennis J. Ernst, editor