It may not be an oft-studied phenomenon, but the compulsion definitely exists for many.
For reasons I am unfamiliar with, my parents used to call it a “Black Cow.” It’s unlikely they pulled the descriptive from the 1977 Steely Dan song of the same moniker. Most commonly knew it as simply a “Root Beer Float.”
A fan of the lathery beverage, my preferred recipe was the varietal “A&W” poured over any form of vanilla ice cream. Somewhere around that time my passions for the sassafras soft drink took, shall we say, root. Soon enough I was collecting all kinds of unopened cans of the tasty treat and prominently stacking them atop my bedroom dresser.
Over time I secured a diverse range including Shasta, Hires, Dad’s, Barrelhead, Fanta and Mug. I was thoroughly engrossed in my ever-expanding accumulation until some cans started leaking and my mother ordered, “Sorry Kenny, but they have got to go!” With them went any visions of grandeur, too.
My first silk-screened T-shirt had in green letters, “Haselman’s Mushroom Farm,” our church softball team sponsor, imprinted on the front. The second I received while playing in a park district summer basketball league emblazoned with the ambiguously creative slogan, “Let’s Park & Recreate!”
Now a half century later, I have hundreds of T-shirts acquired for multitude reasons and from a vast array of places, too many even to wear. Additions continue to this day, but their value is best realized when “liquidated” as gifts on a mission trip or to the local thrift store or Goodwill.
Years ago, while on a seminary internship in Arlington, Virginia, I was visiting a sweet homebound woman. For some reason, she spent the better portion of her life securing a vast array of miniature shoes. The reward for her due diligence was the promise that, upon her passing, the dainty footwear would be bequeathed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History for prominent exhibition. As they say, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, warehouse it!”
Salt and pepper shakers, in every conceivable shape and size and beyond number, was the collection of choice by a neighbor lady who lived just a few blocks away here in Ottawa. I suppose you could call her, “A Woman for All Seasonings!”
During a visit to my mother some months ago, I was her designated chauffeur. One stop was to an elderly couple’s home revealing an unbelievable “two-for-one” on collectibles that almost defied the imagination.
After a brief welcome into their spacious suburban domain, the woman of the house whisked us off to see all her houses within the house. By that I mean the endless array of expertly built and exquisitely decorated doll houses. Virtually every coffee, end, kitchen, foyer, and even an accent table, had a doll house atop! The feature villa was a four-story palatial estate, extravagantly appointed for the Christmas holidays and complete with a wraparound porch, monopolizing the owners’ formal dining room table. The tiniest towels were stacked in the quaint linen closet. The basement of this multi-room miniature house had two water heaters and a fully-stocked bright red tool chest. Had I been downsized with Matt Damon, I would have been envious.
When his turn finally came, the man of the house ushered me down to a spacious basement decked out with an enormous model train set. Hundreds of trains, endless tracks, buildings, bridges, and even scenic mountains spanned the bulk of the basement. Cameras and controls were everywhere in this below-ground playground. All those model trains and accessories barely left room for just one full-sized water heater.
While lodging with a host family outside Milan, Ohio, during a Rotary-sponsored bike ride, I was escorted up the stairs of this rustic farm house. My fellow cyclist and I were offered a choice of either the “Wizard of Oz” room or the “Girl Scouts” room. I chose the former and was led into a bedroom decked out in everything “Oz.” Pillow, posters, puzzles, pictures, and even dinner plates, told the story. Dorothy and her three friends stared at me, from all angles, all night long. Ruby Slippers were ready and waiting. Were I downsized to a Munchkin, they might have even fit.
Thankfully, there were no tornadoes that night.
I’m not sure what was more awkward, explaining I slept with Toto and the Tin Man or having bunked with a bunch of Girl Scouts stuff. My friend’s quarters had a closet full of scouting uniforms and memorabilia dating from the earliest days of the organization. Boxes of cookies were everywhere. Figurines dressed in brown or green peered down at him from bookcases and shelves. Sashes, awards and medals were proudly on display. I’m not kidding! Scouts’ Honor!
Every collector, I suppose, has their impetus for ingathering.
While at a rest stop on that same bike ride, riders toured the newly formed not-for-profit, Elyria Bike Center. The modest storefront was stocked with hundreds of well-worn discarded bikes of all makes and models. Mechanics dutifully mixed and matched usable parts and reparable bikes and put them back on the road for a fraction of the price of a new bike.
Maybe the best part of collecting are those occasions we get to give it all away.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org