I stumbled on my great-uncle Mellous’s watch during Thanksgiving week of 2015. It was in the attic of the home I grew up in- my mother and father had decided to sell the old place, as it had long become too cumbersome for them as they entered their 8th decade. I had come in from Savannah, Ga to help pack my mother’s crystal, fine china, and other goods that she didn’t trust anyone else to pack – and her arthritis had reached such a height that she really was unable to do it herself.
While taking a break, I glanced up into the full length attic that we used to play in when the weather was bad outside. I had come to love that old attic – the house was built in 1929, and we had fun pretending the place was haunted. My parents had purchased the home from the original owners, who had the place built before The Crash – we moved in during January, of 1970, and by June of that year, old Mr. Adams, the husband, was deceased…..sometimes squirrels got into the attic, and my father would joke that Mr. Adams had ‘come home’. I gingerly climbed those stairs for the last time while helping to pack up – I knew I’d never see the place again – the musty smell would stay with me.
On the shelf, I saw the watch, with other items. The brass color attracted me instantly, as the late Autumn sunlight came in through the two loan windows and sparkled in the otherwise dimly lit space. I picked up the watch, turned it over and over in my hands. The face was cracked, and the hands were long since missing. Family legend has it that the crack in the face occurred when the gun went off….but I am uncertain if that is nothing more than family lore….we all have elements of embellishment to contend with. Nobody inside that childhood home of mine would know….none of us, not even my parents, were born yet.
Honestly, the selfish part of me felt like I wanted to keep the watch; but my better self spoke up, reminding Selfish Me that as of now, it did not belong to me. This was an item that had been passed down primarily through the men in my family. My grandmother was the youngest, and the only girl in her nuclear family – her two big brothers, Mellous and Lewis, were very protective of her (except for the time she got her hair bobbed in 1923 – a senior in high school, she was still subject to her father’s household rules; she had grown weary of her long, black hair, so she went to get it bobbed in the style of the Flappers….only to have Mellous drag her in front of their Daddy, who promptly had a ‘come apart’. Lewis, the oldest of the three, simply rolled his eyes and informed my grandmother that she had ‘asked for it’ – Flappers were loose women that smoked and drank….so, OF COURSE she was in trouble!!!!). Eight years later, Mellous had been in and out of sanatoriums for TB, including the one on Shades Crest Road in Bluff Park, AL, as well as up in the Asheville, NC area; he had just returned home from Ashville when the self inflicted gun shot wound to the head took place. My great-grandfather, Lewis, Sr., was the individual who had the misfortune of finding his son. The watch was next to Mellous – Lewis, Sr. held on to it until his own death in 1944 – as if it his own salvation depended on it’s presence – it never left his body – even as he lay at home, lingering from a debilitating and deadly stroke. Upon the elder Lewis’s death, my great-grandmother retrieved it from his shirt pocket and handed it over to the younger Lewis. Years later, in 1956, my father graduated from Vanderbilt University, and had been accepted to medical school at the same institution….upon his graduation, Lewis handed over Mellous’s watch to him. My father had been a 9 year old boy when his grandfather had the wretched stroke; he had been there when the stroke occurred, and was witness to the multiple days of lingering; the neighborhood doctor had hovered over the situation, tending to his patient; when his grandfather passed, the doctor sat with Dad, explaining the situation to him; as the talking played out, Dad walked away making the decision to be a physician – hoping in his day, something could be done to answer these ailments. And combat them. The line was drawn by Uncle Lewis, connecting Mellous’s ailments, his father’s ailments, and his nephew going to medical school.
Many years later, I had learned the fate of Mellous – I was 20 years old, and my father and I were talking on the night of his 50th birthday. Neither of us knew Mellous, but his presence in the family had remained abundant. Lewis, Jr. and Olive never recovered from his passing, yet they never spoke of how he left this world. That generation tended not to speak of things they do not accept. The watch is an item that is a tangible item. His soul is, as well, but it is illusive. When Olive passed away in 1996, I went with my father to open her grave site; while we waited, Mellous was briefly spoken of. “I don’t know what got in to him to do what he did, ” Dad mumbled to me. I know some of that was out of grief from loosing his mother, but I felt a relaxed sensation pour over me……I wanted to tell Dad, “Yeah, but he’s alright”, but I did not…..that illusive soul, I felt, was present with us – but my father does not believe in that sort of thing; so, it became my secret….mine and Mellous’.
Sometimes, I still think about him. For a man I’ve never met before, I feel I know him well.
On that day that I found his watch in the attic, after turning it over and over in my hands and dusting it off on my t-shirt, I heard my parents talking downstairs in the kitchen. I descended the attic steps, turned off the light, closed the attic door, and then descended the back staircase into the kitchen. (my childhood home had 2 stair cases – the main stairs by the front door, and a secondary set that went into the breakfast room/kitchen area – originally used by the live in servants of the original owners. ) I showed the watch to Dad, and he asked me where in the Hades did I find it………I shrugged and told him it was in the attic; he had accidentally laid it there some time before, and became way-laid with some other task, and had forgotten it. A later day had him searching every corner of his mind for it, trying to get a mental visual of where he had put it
That day was the last day I was ever on that top floor of the house…….and I knew it would be as soon as I walked down those stairs. The attic was my favorite room there. And it is where Mellous’ watch had landed for some time, quite by accident. It is apparently a travelling watch…..and it will be fun to see where it lands next.