A couple of months ago I was posting a comment on a string on the online forum I do for the Roundup. The string was about card playing. We were talking about whether or not anyone plays cards anymore, and the word “card” triggered an old memory.
Back when I was a kid a popular brand of bubble gum came in a flat package about two-and-half-by-three inches square. In each package of bubble gum came a trading card. All the cards I saved had baseball players on them, but there may have been other sports in those packages too. It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.
Pretty obviously, we used to do what kids do with trading cards — we traded them, trying to get one of each card. And I was lucky. Being the youngest of four brothers, I inherited a stack of trading cards about a foot high, about half of them brand new. My two oldest brothers, Bill and Frank, who gave me the cards, told me to take good care of them, and to only trade cards or play games with cards that were “dupes” — duplicates.
And so I did. I kept them all in a cookie tin, and only played with the duplicates. Kids used them as “money” in card games, and since I was fairly good at card games I soon had an even bigger stack of the crazy things. And the collection of nice new ones also began to grow because I kept putting them aside.
We also used to play a “wall” game — a game where two or three players would lay cards on the sidewalk below a flat wall, about six or eight cards apiece. Then we would take turns. We would hold a card against the wall, four or five feet above the sidewalk, and then let go. If your card landed, even partly, on one of the cards on the sidewalk, then that card, and the one you had played, were yours. If not, your card was added to the targets. The game continued until all the cards on the sidewalk were gone. I was pretty good at that game too, so my cookie tin got so full I had to get another one.
I was 10 when we left that neighborhood and the kids in the new neighborhood did not collect trading cards or play games with them, so I put my two cookie tins away. There were about — oh-h-h — 200 or so new ones altogether, another 100 in almost new condition, and another 100 or so besides. They were all baseball cards, and the issue dates ranged from 1930-something to 1940, but the players went way back into the 1800s. Among the brand new ones I had were some Ty Cobbs, some Lou Gehrigs, a lot of Babe Ruths and Joe DiMaggios, and lots of others.
The tins stayed with me the next 10 years. I used to take the cards out and look at them, but I avoided handling them too much because Daddy had been a stamp collector, and I had learned how to take care of things from his books — including all his old stamps.
Well, life moved on, I went in the Air Force, and ended up in Iceland. While I was there the family moved, and Mom wrote to me telling me not to worry about my things because she had thrown out some junk, but had been very careful to keep “all the good stuff.”
On June 13, 1953, 21 years old and happy as a lark, I arrived home from overseas. The first two days home again with my family went by fast. I was so happy to be home with Mom, Charlie and Pop Johnson, my stepdad, that there was no time to worry about small things like my stuff down in the cellar of the new house.
The third or fourth day, as Mom was getting me settled into my room, she took me down in the cellar, pointed to a pile of boxes, and said, “There’s all your good stuff.” I said thanks and went to work opening them up.
You know something, Johnny? A mother’s view of what’s “good stuff” and a son’s view are not always exactly the same.
Among the things missing from my “good stuff” were:
• Daddy’s stamp collection.
• A 14-station intercom I planned to use to pipe music from my stereo all over “my” house — when and if there ever was one.
• Six salt-to-fresh-water units I had bought war-surplus before anyone discovered that each of them had $8 worth of silver in it – at 1945 prices. I had a total of 25 ounces of pure silver.
• My nine precious hardback books, each of which had cost me a good part of a week’s pay of $8.75 working as a gofer at the New London Day in my teens, including The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, a 1925 first edition of Richard Halliburton’s Royal Road To Romance, a Modern Library Giant edition of Freud’s five books on psychology, a Modern Library Deluxe edition, in its own special sleeve, of Hudson’s classic novel, Green Mansions, and my three beloved Zane Grey novels. And the most important one of all, a hardback copy of Treasure Island that someone — I don’t know who — gave to me when I was just 8 years old.
• Also my trading cards.
Then came a brother-to-brother conspiracy. I called Charlie down to the cellar and asked him if those were all the boxes I had. And when he said yes, I asked him about the things that were missing. He told me he had thought they were part of what went in the boxes, but he was at work the day it was all packed up.
So we conspired.
To never say a word about it to Mom.
And we didn’t. I went upstairs, gave Mom a big hug, and thanked her for taking good care of “all my good stuff.”
It wasn’t all bad. The books went to my brother Bill, so I just let him have them. I did buy another copy of Cellini’s autobiography, and another first edition of Halliburton’s Royal Road To Romance, this one signed by the author. Took awhile, though — the Halliburton book only arrived four months ago.
But you know what? Mom could have thrown away everything I had, and more, and I still would have smiled and hugged her. Sure, I was a little unhappy about losing those things — well, maybe more than a little — but those things were nothing compared to my love for Mom. That was, and is, boundless.
Just as yours is for your mother.
Mothers are very special people, aren’t they? They give, and give, and give. They never stop giving. It seems to be their nature, giving — everything and anything. Mostly love and caring.
Who needs more than that?
You could clean out my whole house if you could bring Mom back — even for a little while.