My Father's Gold WatchBy Moriso Teraoka
In July of 1989, my brothers, sisters and I, together with our respective families, held a Buddhist memorial service in Hilo for our father who had passed away 13 years before. Just before returning to Honolulu, my brother who lives in Hilo, turned over to me our family’s most cherished possession. This was the solid gold pocket watch that Father proudly wore. The gold watch now hangs in a walnut display case in my living room. As often as I dust the display case I realize that the watch is much more than a tangible heirloom.
In the way of my Japanese upbringing, I had assumed that I, the eldest son, would be the natural custodian of Father’s cherished possession. But I had left home after the war, while my brother, who is three years younger than I, had lived with the folks through all the years and he became the deserving heir to the watch. I know that all of my brothers and sisters reverenced the watch, and now that I was to be the new custodian of this heirloom piece, I felt specially honored and grateful.
I was seven years old in the 1930s when I first became aware of Father’s gold pocket watch. One evening an unknown to the family appeared out of nowhere, so it seemed, when we were about to have our evening meal. He was not a plantation worker for sure, because he wore a suit. After a lengthy talk, Father left him standing at the doorsteps and sat down with the family to have dinner. As it turned out, the stranger wanted to make a trade with Father. He offered my father two of his watches for the gold watch that Father possessed. But Father would have none of the stranger’s offering and he completely ignored him; the stranger eventually left. How the stranger knew of Father’s watch I’ll never know.
My mother was the one who told us what had happened.
Thereafter, I became more aware that Father wore his gold watch on special occasions, like when we went to the New Year’s welcoming ceremony at our Japanese school, or when we were all taken to the Shinto shrine to receive our blessings for the coming year or when he went to weddings.
As often as I cradle the watch in my hands it seems to have the ability to recall memories from the past; me, as a young boy in knee pants, growing up in a closely knitted plantation community, grouped by ethnic backgrounds, the Portuguese, the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Koreans, each ethnic group sharing a section of the whole. Not only does the gold watch make me recall the past, but it also has caused me to want to write down and preserve these recollections of my youth.
Father was a self-made electrician for the Hilo Sugar Company. He learned the basics of electricity from a Mr. Aquai, an employee of Hilo Electric Company. My recollection is that Mr. Aquai took my father under his wings and taught his trade to Father at his home during weekends and nights. How they communicated is beyond my comprehension.
But when I found out that Father could read in English, I realized that he was that much more remarkable that he had applied this reading skill to advance himself in his career. One day my sister found Father looking at a sheet with English writing. “Are you reading?” my sister asked. Father nodded his head.
My brother found among Father’s papers, two letter of references written by chief engineers of Hilo Sugar Company attesting to Father’s work habits and skills. John Greive in Jan. 11, 1923 wrote the following:
This is to certify that Shikazo Teraoka has been employed by the Hilo Sugar Co., under my personal supervision, for the last twelve years.
Teraoka is a good machinist, but is particularly adapted for D. C. motor and generator work, besides being a first class lineman. There is nothing around a sugar mill he cannot do, and do well.
Teraoka would make a splendid Night Engineer to any company that employed him in that capacity, as besides being efficient, he is thoroughly trustworthy in every way.
I highly recommend him to anyone who is in need of a first class sugar mill man, and guarantee that they cannot over-tax his abilities.
P.S. Teraoka is also a first class automobile repairman.
On August 31, 1937, John Crane another chief engineer wrote the following about Father.
This is to certify that Shikazo Teraoka has been in the employment of Hilo Sugar Co. for 37 years. He has worked in all stations around the mill and for the past 20 years has held the position of electrician.
He has proved himself a very good workman, steady and reliable. I can with confidence recommend him to anyone requiring his services.
Towards this endeavor to document the past, I asked my brother in Hilo to interview the people from our plantation community who knew our family. My brother was able to talk to four former plantation residents, and he recorded their recollections of Father on tapes. The tapes told me things that I had long forgotten.
One person remembered that Father at one time was the treasurer for our Haaheo Elementary School PTA. Another person recalled that he taught the Japanese community his native dance steps for the annual Bon Festival. Still another person showed his admiration for Father’s work habits. Father was the first person to arrive on the job and the last to leave.
I recall that one of his proudest moments of his life occurred when he became eligible to vote. After many weeks of attending classes in citizenship at Haaheo Elementary School, Father and Mother and other elders in the community became naturalized American citizens on September 11, 1989.
It was only after marriage and I had my own children that I began to realize that Father was truly a man of integrity, a demanding man, a caring man, and a man of principle. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I am a reflection of what he himself was. I don’t know when I began to do with my children what Father did with his children. I try to raise my children in such a way that they would weigh the positive and negative sides before arriving at a decision. Given the right from the wrong they must make decisions that they must live with, because after they are past their twenties they must live within the framework that they have set for themselves.
Somehow I feel that there is a parallel in the way my wife and I have guided our three sons into adulthood and the way that my father guided me into adulthood. By maintaining the principles of hard work, compassion, honesty, and the courage of our convictions, we have strived to pass on these values to our children through their upbringing.
Someday too, my father’s gold watch will be passed on to one of my sons, the gold watch which was the power to induce me to reflect upon my upbringing, the gold watch that some day will induce my sons to reflect upon their upbringing by their father.
"My Father's Gold Watch" was reprinted courtesy of Moriso Teraoka. Copyright retained by Moriso Teraoka.