When I left for college from my home in Salt Lake City, my just-older brother Wade ran out to the waiting taxi-cab reached in and handed me a wooden nickel. He said, "Let this be the last one you ever take." I was 17 years old and I never forgot his words. Within my first 24 hours on the campus of Howard University I bought 4 watches from a young man whose uncle worked for a big watch manufacturer. The manufacturer had made too many watches and needed to get rid of the excess inventory. His nephew agreed to help in his free time. As I happened by this young man, who appeared older than me not by much, opened his too hot for the season trench coat revealing a plethora assortment of genuine diamond studded designer watches. If I wanted one or more he echoed I must hurry, he could not stand out there forever. In my best effort not to conceal my overabundance of excitement responded that I only had $75. This $75 was the total lot my single mother of four could amass before I left for DC. She made me put it in a knee high stocking tied off with a knot and stuff it in my bra all the way from Utah to Washington DC. Upon reaching my dorm, I was instructed to hide it in my underwear drawer. I promised and I did. Mama said it could be weeks before she could send any more money, and it was, months even.
The four watches I was ogling were being offered at $125 sum total. But since it was getting dark and I was brand spanking new to the big city, this nice fellow was going to make a once ever exception and cut me a deal. He reminded me much to my excitement that normally he did not reduce prices and likely his uncle was going to be quite irate, but for me it would be worth it. Now hurry he told me. "I can give you five minutes." I took off like a flash, running through the corridors up the steps and to my room like Jackie Joyner Kersee. I was moving so fast I brought back both the money and a pair of underwear stuck to the knee high stocking. I was so very afraid I had not made it back in time. What if this nice fellow was gone? What if he changed his mind about the exceptional deal he had promised me? What then I asked myself?
No need to worry, the nice nephew had not moved an inch from where he last stood when I left. As I got really close I slowed just a bit, trying not to show my sweat. I walked briskly now almost a skip to where he stood casually leaning on a brick wall near my dormitory. I spoke first, "$75, all four watches, right?" He said, "Yeh, I promised you right? You bring the money?" Noticing for the first time I had underwear in my hand too, I turned four shades of country bumpkin red and managed to respond, "Yeh I have it, all $75." As nephew reached for the money, still in the knee high stocking, he said half-question, half-statement, "Mama's idea right?" I nodded my head.
He reminded me of the great deal I was getting, counted the money which contained a lot of singles. Singles because most of it was from tips mama got while bartending most nights at the Elks Club. Nephew asked me who the watches were for and I told him, my oldest brother John whose birthday was right around the corner, mama of course, a boyfriend back in Utah I was sure I was going to marry one day and then the last one was for me. I thanked this young guy once too many times and told him I knew he was in a hurry to go. "Again thank you. These SEIKO watches are going to make awesome gifts back home."
My watch was on a necklace. In the twelve position instead of a number was a sparkling diamond. I wore that necklace proudly, slept in it too. The other watches I placed in my underwear drawer in the same space the money had been. It was worth it I told myself. I was going to bring such big smiles to everyone. I set the time on each watch, used my underwear to shine their new faces and tucked them away. NOT ONE OF THEM INCLUDING THE NECKLACE AROUND MY NECK EVER KEPT TIME. They were all fake, completely!
When I realized I had been had, I sobbed. I sobbed for my naïveté, I sobbed because I wasted mama's hard earned tip money. I sobbed because I realized I couldn't trust anyone. I sobbed because I looked totally stupid running through that dorm and back. The way I oohed and aahed and thanked and thanked this fellow for his kindness toward me. All I could see now were wooden nickels.
At Christmas, I handed out the non-working watches, all of them. With each came my story of how I got them. Mama said hers was the best gift she ever received. After listening to my story she said, "Great! You will be fine out there in them streets. You are now ready." For many years I kept my necklace watch in my underwear drawer as a reminder. My brother Wade never said a word. He didn’t have to.
I bet that trench coat wearing brother without an uncle of excess inventory, has perfected one hell of a butterfly. What a fake he turned out to be. There's still time.