A collection, like the experience of a lifetime, is assembled piecemeal. One by one, items are discovered or chosen and given a place in our hearts. The spot where they were found, or the memory of the day, remains with us.
Often, the journey that is taken on the road to a collection is as valuable as any object we posses.
As I looked at the antiques and collectibles filling three buildings at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center last weekend, I began to notice collections for sale. Treasures that had been chosen, and cherished, were now abandoned to the tables and booths of dealers.
As always, I was intrigued by the story behind the things I saw. I had no clue what tales the objects would tell if they could, so I supplied my own:
A fat bundle of dozens of colorful plastic swizzle sticks, caught by a rubber band, led me to imagine a couple who spent their weekends dancing to big band music at nightclubs in the 1940s and 50s. Did she wear silk and crinoline, with scarlet lips and nails? Did he wear a fedora and a wide, colorful tie?
A collection of matchbooks, still in the cigar box in which they had been kept, conjured the image of a night out and a steak dinner in the town’s best restaurant. I pictured a linen tablecloth, perhaps a small lamp in the center of the table, and a bottle of champagne cooling in a stand nearby. What promises were whispered beneath the wreath of cigarette smoke hovering over the table?
A stack of souvenir pennants from parks and roadside attractions across the country brought back my own memories of vacations in the family station wagon (no air-conditioning) crisscrossing the continent to see the sights; national parks, tourist traps and big, busy, cities. How many games of license plate bingo were played in the back seat of that family’s car? Are the people who gathered those colorful flags now driving their own children, or grandchildren, to see the sights?
I saw a bag of sea shells, a scrapbook filled with state fair ribbons, and a picture frame preserving flowers that had been pressed and dried.
Some collections are rare, expensive and fragile objects. They are sheltered and protected behind glass, or kept under lock and key. They are never touched or used. And that’s fine.
But for many of us, a collection is a way of capturing forever a slice of time, or a memorable moment. It is a tangible reminder of an intangible moment; something to hold on to when time takes the rest.
I love to look at the bundles and boxes of little things that were gathered and kept by people I’ll never meet. When we do that, it makes us pause a moment and quietly celebrate the lives and days of others. We’re saying that what they treasured was worth saving.
We’re acknowledging our little place in a big world.
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