Hank Garland made his way to the corner of College and Lexington. The building had a painted sign on the window: Hogan’s Watch Repair. But it was almost impossible to read for all the things piled up against the glass on the inside. Old chairs, dusty books, a pair of men’s boots, a fishing pole. Lamps and tools, a phonograph, a collection of mismatched porcelain figurines. Hank’s mother had some of those knick-knacks on her china shelf. “Curios,” she called them.
Hogan’s Watch Repair might have been better described as a Curio Shop — or a Curiosity Shop, for that matter. Hank had been surprised by the cluttered state of it the day before when he’d pushed open the door. But he’d come all the way from Charlotte on the Grayhound bus looking for Mr. Hogan.
The proprietor was inside on Hank’s first visit. At first Hank didn’t see him. Despite the shop’s large windows, very little daylight made it to the cluttered inner sanctum. There, Mr. Hogan was hunched over a large, heavy bench working with the light of a headlamp.
“Hello?” Hank called.
Mr. Hogan looked up, clearly surprised by the presence of another person in the space. He was a tall and beaky man made all the odder by a set of magnifying eyeglasses. “What say?” he blurted.
“Oh, excuse me.” Hank removed his cap and held it between his hands, hoping it came across as a show of respect. Never mind the mess of his hair, uncut since he returned from Vietnam.
“Come in, son,” Mr. Hogan said, and Hank approached the bench. “What brings ya?” Mr. Hogan asked.
“My granddaddy’s watch.” Hank pulled it from the inside pocket of his jean jacket. It was wrapped in a handkerchief. Mr. Hogan accepted the bundle and carefully unwrapped the cloth.
Inside was the watch that Hank had received from his own daddy’s estate. There wasn’t much to divide among Bertram Garland’s three living sons. His last years hadn’t been too pretty. He blamed a litany of nagging injuries from his own service in Korea, but it was the drinking that had done him in. Hank was given the watch from the few remaining nice things Daddy had owned and he knew why: He’d been named for his granddaddy, though he barely remembered the man called Big Henry.
“Son, this isn’t just any watch.” Mr. Hogan let out a low whistle. “It was made by the E. Howard Watch Company, back during the Civil War.”
“Civil War,” Hank repeated, raking a hand through his hair. “You don’t say.”
“Is it a family heirloom?”
“I guess so. It was my granddaddy’s. Left to me by my daddy.” He cleared the sudden lump in his throat. “I knew it was old, but I didn’t know how old. All I know is that it doesn’t work.”
Mr. Hogan wound the watch and held it to his ear. Hank already knew — no ticking. The second hand, in its own tiny inset circle, didn’t budge.
“I hope you can fix it,” he said to Mr. Hogan. “See, I think you worked on it before.” Hank pointed to the yellowed tag tied to the watch chain. In faded ink it read “Hogan’s Watch Repair, Asheville, North Carolina.”
“So that’s how you found me, Son?”
“Yes, sir.” In fact, Hank had called Information to find out if the repair shop was still in business. When he learned that it was, he went and bought a bus ticket. Didn’t bother calling the shop first, just set out on the journey. The watch was the only connection he had left to his father and grandfather, and somehow Mr. Hogan was a part of that story.
“Alright then,” Mr. Hogan said. His beaky face took on a softness. “I’ll see what I can do. You come back this time tomorrow.”
Hank shook the older man’s hand and made his way back to the street. He wandered around for a while, bought himself a sandwich at the Woolworth lunch counter, and asked the waitress where he might find a room for the night.
“There’s a boarding house on Biltmore Avenue across from the old music hall,” she said.
The recommendation was good: Hank was able to check into a room at The Gray Rock Inn for the night. He washed his face in the small sink and stretched out on the single bed. It was the first time he’d been separated from the watch since he’d received it, and he found himself missing the weight of it in his jacket pocket. Each night before he fell asleep he held it like some sort of talisman that could return to him his faded memories of his father and — even farther back — Big Henry.
What Hank could recall of his grandfather was a kindly man with a weathered face. He was permanently tanned from hours in the sun tending his small farm in Weaverville, not far from Asheville.
Hank’s father, who everyone called Buck, couldn’t wait to get away from country life and set off for the city of Charlotte as soon as he was able. Buck found himself a factory job and a wife and soon he had four sons. Hank was the second eldest. His big brother, Junior, was just two years older and had enlisted for the Vietnam war as soon as he graduated from high school. Junior died there, thousands of miles from home, the same week Hank was drafted.
Hank did his best, overseas, to stay buried in a book or lost in daydreams. It was his imagination that saved him, he figured, though he wasn’t sure what it had saved him for. He’d been home for years now and still he felt no motivation to do anything beyond a part-time job at a filling station.
But getting out of town felt good. Truth be told, Hank had felt a lightness come over him as the Greyhound bus climbed the steep grade from Old Fort into Black Mountain. He hadn’t been in the Western part of the state since he was a boy. His father had taken him and his brothers a few times to visit Big Henry, back when Hank was still called Little Henry.
Hank hadn’t known his grandmother Josie, though everyone always spoke fondly of her. “Gone too soon,” they said. “An absolute angel.” The same was not said of Hank’s mother, who ran off with a vacuum cleaner salesman, leaving Buck with four boys to raise as best he could. Maybe it was her revenge for being left with two babies, Hank and Junior, when Buck went off to Korea.
But the visits to Big Henry had always been a welcome break from the sadness of Buck’s house. The memories that came back to Hank were of a garden full of greens and new potatoes, fruit trees weighted down with bounty, and fields of thick green tobacco from which Big Henry made his living.
Hank spent the next morning wandering around downtown Asheville. He treated himself to a full breakfast, stopped into the few shops that were open, and sat on a bench for a spell, gazing at the tall Art Deco buildings. Asheville felt so much older than Charlotte. Charlotte was new and hard-edged, churning resolutely into the future. Asheville, Hank found, was dusty and let go, but also softly pretty. Its slower pace suited him.
Finally, when enough time had passed, Hank walked back to Hogan’s Watch Repair.
This time, the front window looked even more cluttered than the day before. Was that possible? A teddy bear stared out, a brass birdcage sat empty, a ratty fur coat was flung over a blanket rack. Hank found himself wondering if he’d made a mistake. He’d taken his watch to a shop that looked more like a flea market booth based on nothing more than an old tag. Hank shook his head at himself and pushed the door open.
A bell sounded somewhere in the bowels of the shop, but there was no sign of Mr. Hogan. “Hello?” Hank called. His voice sounded childish and small. He tried again, at a deeper pitch. “Anyone here?”
There was no answer, but through the gloom of the shop Hank made out a light coming from the back. A door was ajar — possibly an office, so Hank made his way in that direction. He rapped the door frame with his knuckles, calling “Hello?” again. No answer. Hank pushed the door open and poked his head in.
“Anyone —” he stopped short. The door led not to an office or even a wash room but into a daylit grove of cedar trees. Could that be right? Hank took another step and found himself surrounded by the soft feathers and fresh scent of cedar boughs. The light was spilling in from between the two largest trees, so Hank pushed his way between the branches, popping out on the other side in a large, well-kept garden.
“Can I help you?” came a voice. Hank turned, expecting to see Mr. Hogan. Instead, he was met by the inquisitive gaze of a man about his age, dressed in overalls and a wide straw hat.
“Excuse me, Sir,” Hank said. He didn’t know how to express his confusion other than to say, “I think I’m lost.”
“We’ll get you pointed in the right direction.” The man smiled, open and easy. He held out a calloused hand. “Name’s Henry.”
Hank offered his hand. “Hank,” he said, and the man gave him an odd glance.
“You don’t say.” A beat. “Shall I give you directions or would you like to sit a spell in the shade?”
Though he usually avoided small talk with strangers, Hank felt at ease in Henry’s presence. He dropped to the grass under the nearest shade tree and Henry joined him. “What do you think of the place?” he asked.
Hank surveyed the land. It was open countryside surrounded by rugged old mountains. They were in a large backyard behind a tidy cabin. There was a barn in the distance and Hank thought he could make out a horse. Maybe a mule. Next to the house was an old-timey wagon.
Henry noticed Hank’s gaze. “I’m saving up for a Model A,” he said. “But for now the cart’s gotta do.”
“A Model A? Ford? You rebuild antiques or something?”
“Antique!” Henry laughed. “That’s a brand new motorcar. Got my eye on the 1927 model over in Asheville, but may have to wait until 1928.”
Hank shook his head, trying to make sense of it. Everything around him, from Henry’s overalls to the cabin to the absence of power lines or the hum of traffic — it was like he’d stepped into a period film.
“We just got this piece of land last year,” Henry was saying. “I’ve got tobacco on ten acres, but this is where my heart is.” He pointed to several robust rows of green stalks in the garden.
“What’s that?” Hank asked.
“Mexican sunflowers. You ever heard of ‘em?”
Henry looked surprised. “Well, most folks haven’t. They’re smaller than the sunflowers you grow for the birds, and come in all kinds of colors. Ladies love them for their dining tables.”
Hank nodded again. It tickled up a memory — Big Hank always clipping a vase of small sunflowers in the summer. “Your grandma loved them,” he used to say.
“You were talking about antiques,” Henry interrupted Hank’s reverie. “You’ll love this.”
He pulled a gold watch from the front pocket of his overalls. It was tarnished but still remarkable. Henry flipped open the cover, showing a display of Roman numerals. The second hand was inset in its own tiny circle, but that hand didn’t move.
“I found it when I plowed up this garden,” Henry said.
“You think it’s old?”
“Reckon so. My neighbor — he knows watches — said it dates back to the Civil War.”
“Civil War?” Hank repeated. It was an odd coincidence.
“Maybe some poor soldier dropped it either moving south or moving north,” Henry said. “This area didn’t see much action other than troops marching through.” He paused. “Hand to God, I prefer it that way. It’s peaceful here — no restless souls.”
It was peaceful. Hank felt a quiet ease filling him. The air was fresh, the grass soft. He could have drifted into a nap were it not for the strange circumstances.
“The watch doesn’t work, but I kind of like it that way,” Henry confided.
“It reminds me that I’m lucky. That I’m in the right place.” Henry paused and looked around him. “A good piece of land like this, you don’t need a watch to tell you the time. I’ve got the sun and the seasons and all of nature to tell me that this time is the right time.”
Hank nodded slowly, feeling the truth of the words.
“But I might try to get it repaired someday,” Henry continued. “See, my wife and I just had a son. Bertram. She wants to call him Bertie, but I’m not sure it’ll take. An antique pocket watch from the Civil War might make that boy a fine gift someday. A real family heirloom to pass on to his own son.”
As if on cue, the back door of the cabin opened and a woman stepped out. She wore a flowered dress and an apron. She was holding an infant in one arm. “Henry?” she called.
“That’s my Josie,” Henry winked at Hank. “I’ll go see what she needs and I’ll bring us back some cool water. That sound good?”
Hank nodded and watched Henry’s retreating back. His head spun with the details — their similar names, the woman named Josie. Was it really 1927? That was the year Hank’s father was born. And the Civil War watch.
Hank jumped up and pushed his way back into the cedar hedge at the far end of Henry’s back yard. He was momentarily blinded by thick branches, overwhelmed by the clean piney scent. And then his foot struck hard flooring. His eyes adjusted to the gloom and he found himself back in Hogan’s Watch Repair shop. Mr. Hogan was bent over his workbench.
Hank cleared his throat and Mr. Hogan looked up. “I didn’t hear you come in, Son. I get lost in my work sometimes.” He removed his magnifying glasses and pointed his headlamp to the tin ceiling.
“Nothing wrong with that.” Hank brushed a cedar needle from his collar.
“I have some bad news about that watch of yours,” Mr Hogan said. “It can’t be repaired. At least not without rebuilding the whole mechanism, and then it devalues the antique.”
Hank nodded as if he understood. “It’s okay,” he said. “I got thinking and I don’t need the watch to tell the time, anyway. I just need it for good luck.”
Mr. Hogan cocked his head, but didn’t ask any questions. Instead he said, “I did look back in the records, since you had the tag from when the watch came into this shop before.”
“Would you believe? 1950! The early years of my watch repair business — I learned from my father, you know. Anyway, my father’s neighbor brought it in and asked if I could repair it. He wanted to give it to his son who was heading to Korea.”
“I told him the same thing I told you. So he asked to have it inscribed.” Mr Hogan turned the watch over. “I polished it up so you could see it.”
Hank took the watch and gazed at it. Sure enough, under the tarnish had been words. “For Bertram Buck Garland, with love from your father.” And under that, in careful script, “Regardless the destination, all roads lead home.”
“Yes,” said Hank, though Mr. Hogan had not asked a question. It felt as if someone somewhere had answered a question for Hank. One he didn’t know he needed answered.
“This is better than I hoped,” he told Mr. Hogan. “What do I owe you?”
“No charge. I told you I couldn’t fix it.”
“For the polishing, then.”
Mr. Hogan waved him off. “My pleasure. It was like reuniting with an old friend.”
Hank left the shop, stepping into the warm day. He moved the watch from his jacket pocket to his jeans so he could walk in shirt sleeves. He needed to get back to the Gray Rock Inn and retrieve his few things, buy a bus ticket, and head back down the mountain. There was his job at the filling station waiting for him, though suddenly that didn’t seem very important.
Hank wondered how hard it would be to find a little place outside of Asheville — maybe Weaverville — to rent. And was it too late in the season to plant sunflowers? Was it too late in his life to become a sunflower farmer?
Something told him that this was exactly the right time.