I was five years old in 1936 when Mother bought me a Mickey Mouse watch. She was a clerk at Woolworth’s and bought the watch at a discount from its $3.25 marked price. The Ingersoll Company sold these wind-up watches as early as 1933.
On the face of the watch Mickey pointed out the hours and minutes with his yellow gloved hands as he stood on skinny legs in his oversize red shoes. I felt grown up when I learned to buckle the black band onto my arm. I knew no one else my age with a watch as fine as this. Like Mother’s watch, Mickey had a real crystal cover protecting him. That crystal was my downfall.
On numerous occasions when we visited my grandparents’ home in South Mississippi, I found an adventure I often repeated. Having no playmate in the large house, I played “pretend” under beds. I looked for lost treasure, hid from robbers, discovered how to escape from bad men while squiggling on my stomach in the low space. Mickey stayed close and helped me escape from danger. On one tense exploration I heard a Crack! Mick took a bullet. Even with the broken crystal he stayed with me. I crawled out from the depths of the cave to civilization with bits of glass clinging to my wrist.
In the kitchen Mother and her family talked softly. I walked past those uncles and aunts all the time worrying I’d never see Mick again. Mother examined the damage and calmly said, “Don’t worry, we can get Mr. Bourgeois to put on a new crystal.” Mick stayed in the “hospital” for nearly a week. My left arm felt as bare as my dad’s bald head. Mother suggested I tighten the strap, thinking that was my problem. She didn’t know how the crystal broke.
Until I had Mick back with me, my adventures weren’t as interesting. No one could read the map or open locks or use his big eyes to tell me where to go in the darkness. When Mick returned, I took special care of him. I wiped his face and wound him every night before I went to bed. He slept in his box on the bedside table. I never failed to say “Goodnight, Mickey.” He replied “G’night, Viv.”
Did I learn my lesson after that first break? No. I broke the crystal three times more before Mother caught on to my underworld adventures. She put Mickey away in her secret place. I didn’t see him again until I was six when I was too big to slip under beds.