Those are the ones that owe their existence to the kindness of others.
Quite often, people don’t choose to collect things. Who would decide deliberately, for instance, to gather a lifetime collection of photographs of, say, old outhouses? Or who would on purpose start out saying, “ I think I will collect — old dust cloths” Or “hey, rubber bands!” Yet, I know people who collect those kinds of things, through no choice of their own. Somebody gave them a pretty dustcloth, or a distinctive rubber band — and they hung on to it, and showed it to visitors as a curiosity, and that was that. Friends took over.
I lie. I do not know anyone who collects dustcloths or rubber bands. (I do believe there is, somewhere in my past, someone who collected photos of old outhouses, but I couldn’t tell you his name. Nor would I if I could.) But this column does dreadful things to me. I was desperate for examples, and, let this be one to you — I ended up telling lies. I apologize.
My point however was that so often collectors collect the things they collect not so much because they make a single rational decision to collect these things (”From now on, I plan to collect 16th-century ceremonial halberds”), but because other people choose to remember some distant spur-of-the-moment, unconsidered remark you made once in their presence. Like “Oh, isn’t that an attractive 16th century halberd?”
In other words, our collections are often unmotivated, growing more out of other people’s desperation, (”What in the world can I get her for Christmas?”), than out of some deep-rooted love for spittoons or fishing lures. Sometimes a mahjong tile seems to be the only thing that fills your need to find something to give to someone — but that can be the start of an illustrious collection.
I have two collections, and maybe more, that arise out of that simple motivation.
To begin with, I love animals. Always have, always will. There’s an old family story that, when I was three, my father came home from work one day and found me on our front porch swing, affably communing with a strange German shepherd twice my size. It was a shock to my mother inside the house when he pointed it out to her. To my sorrow, the dog ran away and I never saw him again.
Consequently, besides getting me a dog of my very own — see past column on Very Best Christmas Gifts Of My Entire Life — my parents bought me little china dogs from time to time, which have gone missing since. Therefore, as a grownup, it seemed very natural that occasionally, when MHTB and I went on vacation, I was attracted to little carved (affordable) animals in tourist shops. They filled two needs: my love of animals and my need to have something to remind me of the wonderful time we had had on that vacation. Of course, I have long since forgotten which animal goes with which vacation, but I ended up with quite a number of little, unhoused carved wooden animals, laid out precariously on the tops of bookcases. What I needed was an animal shelter.
It was MHTB who figured out what to do. One year, as a Christmas gift for me, he went to a friend, Stanley Goodrich, who was wonderful with wood, and asked him to make a Noah’s Ark. Stan turned out a gorgeous one, perfect for displaying my beloved animals, and later for accommodating Noah himself fishing in a tiny rowboat, and Mrs. Noah, with a broom and a bouquet of flowers. (Much needed on the Ark, I’m sure.) Little figures, of course, which somebody else gave me on seeing my Ark. Along with a bunch of other animals that people gave me, when the Ark got their attention. And so the bunch grew into a — collection! Graciously gathered for me — by other people!
I owe much of my other collections to friends and relatives too,
Naturally, because of my close family ties to about a million ministers, I have a soft spot for churches. And apparently it seemed like a safe gift for people to give us at Christmas, or any other time, when for some reason they wanted to give us gift, bless their hearts. After a while, I got the idea, and started to collect some on my own, but we were on a budget, so I built my Cheap Church Collection mostly on the kindness of others. You’d be amazed at the beautiful churches you can get on cramped funds — I even have a couple from Europe, very small, very cheap, very precious. Brought back for me by friends and relatives.
Oh yes, and I have a collection of stuffed animals, the kind that turn into other things. As I remember, I bought only one of them myself. I now have about a dozen.
Thus it is that, so often, collections collect themselves.
We just house them.
Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.