>Call me Scarlet O'Hara. In less than two hours, I will be pawning a family "jewel."
This 1950s or '60s Baume & Mercier watch has a sad story behind it that of course turns somewhat ridiculous when in my hands. Basically, my grandfather was born in Warsaw and fled to Russia when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. My bubbe evacuated Minsk when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. Both wound up in the Ural Mountains. They got married, and my dad was born in Magnitgorsk after the war. When he was less than a month old, the family left Russia to find my grandfather's family. No one was alive, Jews were killed on a regular basis in Poland, and so they joined the tide of other refugees and lived in displaced persons camps for five years until they came to the US.
While living in the DP camps, my grandparents befriended another couple, Norm and Helen. With no blood relatives, they became family to each other. Norm and Helen eventually relocated to South Haven, MI where they owned an orchard. Happily, my family wound up not far away in Chicago, and my dad spent many happy summers in the fresh air with Norm and Helen. Fast forward 50 or so years, in preparation for her own death, Helen began giving her jewelry to my bubbe, including this watch. To me, this is horribly morbid, but apparently a common Jewish practice.
Once my bubbe has the watch, she becomes obsessed with giving it to me. Except that it is not my style and I don't particularly want it, so I repeatedly refuse it. When Bubbe semi-accepts that I am not going to ever wear the watch, she decides that I need to hock it. I take it to some estate jewelry buyers in both Chicago and New York. All say the same thing: I'm not the only person who thinks the style is dated, and they can't sell such an item. It is worth only the gold from which it is made. The best offer I get is $200.
Bubbe, however, is convinced that it is a priceless object d'arte and is very displeased with what I report.
"Don't let them cheat you!" she intones in her Eastern European accent.
Dutifully, I continue schlepping it to different jewelers until I accidentally overwind the watch and break it. Since the value of the watch is in the gold and not the time-telling, this appears to have no effect on its value, but I use it as an excuse to stop my aimless wanderings, although I consider selling it and lying about the price. The watch thus sits on my nightstand for another few years.
In the past few weeks, I see a number of ads for an estate jewelry buyer in New York City. On Sunday, I decide to email them and see if they are interested in the watch. Yesterday afternoon an extremely chipper woman calls me and asks me to bring it in. I call my sister and tell her whatever I get for the watch, I'll share with her 50-50, and she tells me to just sell it already. I decide that I am going to give my portion to charity. Originally, I thought Planned Parenthood, but Husband suggests that I select a Jewish organization, which makes sense.
At the end of the day, no matter what the watch sells for, it will never undo the loneliness and torment suffered by Norm and Helen as they rebuilt their shattered lives in America, and celebrated their success with a gold Baume & Mercier watch. Reflecting on this saga on Sept. 11 and the day before Rosh Hashanah 5768, it is obvious that they already paid the highest price.