Tins, Watches, and Emotional Assignments

On the bookcase above my desk, surrounded by a dust ring of neglect, rests an old, oval, tin box that once belonged to my great grandfather. It's weathered with a beautiful patina that nearly obscures the detailed scenes etched into it, but just manages to make it look lived-in.

There is a single business card in that tin. The card is simple in its design, but thorough in its description of his job: "Master and Pilot for Yachts for the Atlantic Coast and Inland Waters from Maine to Florida."

What a title! Sixteen words. The phone number listed on the card is a mere three digits. His first and middle name are described only in initials. Delaware is abbreviated to Del. But, that title is there fully in all of its ridiculous specificity. He must have been a proud Master and Pilot for Yachts for the Atlantic Coast and Inland Waters from Maine to Florida.

I love this thing.

There are very few things that I own which carry any emotional or sentimental weight to them.1 Manufactured goods are sterile in that way. So, it's much easier to develop an affection for older items. It's easier to believe they've had a life. Indifference is for things and emotions are for people. Or sometimes really, really old things that once belonged to people.

On occasion, I think it's useful to deliberately assign some value to those things that we choose to let surround us. By doing so, we can take an object and make it more. We can make it our own. We can give it a life.

Every day, I wear my Casio A168. Right now, it tells me that the time is 21:08. It lights up a stunning teal from the 1980's and it keeps track of leap years effortlessly. It is simple, it is ugly, and you can buy one for about 14 bucks ( 2023 update: about $29 ↗).

Etched into the back of this mass-produced work of art are some mass-produced words. CASIO. STAINLESS STEEL BACK. WATER RESISTANT. Made in China.

Fair enough.

More than those words will ever convey, this little thing has been perched on my wrist for some wonderful moments of my life. I saw my sister get married in this watch. It, literally, touched my nephew the very first time that I held him. It moved to New York City with me. I once fell in love wearing it. It is the subject of the most thoughtful gift that I have ever received. And as I wrote each of these words it was with me, encouraging me from my left.

I have stretched my arm past my sleeve, letting it poke out to tell me the hour, literally, hundreds of times. It intimately knows every shirt that I own. It keeps track of any changes in the circumference of my wrist.

It is a personal logo, a brand, and a mark.

It is a watch, but I have high hopes for its life. It will inevitably outlive me. I hope that it finds its way to a great, great grandchild of mine. And if it ever gets that far, I for damn sure better have etched even more memories into it.2 And so, it and I keep going. We keep making.

It is a watch. But, I've assigned it a larger role than that. It is a flag pole, clasped to my wrist, reminding me of the time, my age, and moments in my life that I am lucky enough to want to remember. With electroluminescence in case they happen at night.


In an apartment-building-fire situation, this tin is one of a small handful of items that I would grab before tumbling down my fire escape to the safety.


And I should probably provide a few decade's worth of (currently) available batteries.