By John Morrow
What would you call a collection of people who collect things? A cluster? A club? A clump? I don’t know either, but just about everyone seems to be passionate about collecting something. I’m not much interested in gathering more stuff and sometimes I feel I might be missing out. I do seem able to bury my workbench in miscellaneous debris without even really trying, but I don’t think that qualifies as a collection.
It hasn’t always been this way. When I was a boy, back in a time when every self-respecting man carried a pack of Export-A cigarettes in his shirt pocket, I collected matchbooks. Businesses everywhere gave these out, certain that this advertising strategy would increase their trade tenfold. My family and their adult friends gathered unique matchbooks for me as they puffed their smokes in such exotic locations as Bob’s Pizzeria, Larry’s Laundromat, and the Beachwood Farm Co-op (reportedly, home of the world’s largest potato).
I carefully sorted my colorful collection by province and by business type, and then glued each one into my giant scrapbook. I was rightfully proud of my accomplishment and entered my collection in the local Hobby Fair. The judges must have agonized like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice as they awarded the coveted medals.
I had never been prouder than when I first saw the third-place bronze medal atop my scrapbook at the Hobby Fair gala. I’m certain the other two matchbook collecting exhibitors were as delighted as I was with their awards.
As an adult I learned there is more to building a collection than meets the eye. One day I was at a country auction just nosing around, passing time. Over in the corner, out of sight to most casual bidders, I spotted what looked like a hidden gem – a wooden Coca-Cola case containing 24 unopened small Coke bottles with labels commemorating some sporting event from 20 years past. The rusting caps and questionable, brownish contents did not lessen my excitement.
I didn’t collect Coke things, but I knew others did. Here was my chance to join the collectors club or cluster or clump – whatever it is. My skillful bidding, or perhaps others’ complete disinterest in Coke that day, won me the prize. However, once I got home the thrill of old Coke ownership began to wane.
After six months of storing the precious case in our home, where I frequently used it to stub my toe and block my access to something actually useful, I decided to liquidate my collection. I couldn’t find anyone remotely interested in old Coke bottles. One kindly gent agreed to take the wooden case off my hands. I sold it to him on the condition that he take some bottles too. Somewhere a serious Cola collector may be looking for those old bottles. I wish him luck.
A few years ago, we visited the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. Now, those people really know how to make a collection. My interest was piqued by a display of antique children’s metal lunchboxes along a cafeteria wall. Every TV show I remembered from my childhood was represented: Paladin, Gunsmoke, Bugs Bunny, and about 1,000 more.
“Hey,” I said to my wife as we munched cafeteria sandwiches at a small table, “I could start collecting those. They’re cool.” She just looked away and shook her head slowly as she tapped her fingernail on the rim of her glass of Coke.
John lived in Port Stanley in the ‘60s and moved back 10 years ago after retiring from a career in education. You can find him most mornings sharing coffee and wisdom with friends at a local coffee shop. John enjoys writing about the humour he sees in everyday life.
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You can also listen to John read this and other stories on his Podcast, Laughing At Life, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and most other podcast hosts.