I try so desperately to hide my junk from plain view that it gets stashed away and I never remember what I have. Old clothes. Comic books. Gifts from loved ones I feel too guilty to throw away. Iím a pack rat that likes to deny his true nature.
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I have bags, boxes and shelves full of bags and boxes. I take inventory every few months and just last week I stumbled upon one of those valuable things that you frequently forget you have until it peers out behind the clutter of your accumulated possessions.
In a corner beneath some old jeans was a white shopping bag whose contents I hadnít cataloged since my first move into this apartment. Among neglected accoutrements of my childhood, sat my 1959 Ted Williams baseball card. This is a memory for me of almost 20 years. And as they do after such a long time has passed, the remembrances of how I came across this card slowly, meticulously uncoiled in my mind.
I hadnít thought about No. 9 since his passing - the sin it was. In fact, I hadnít thought much of his Ď53 Fleer card when I got it. I knew it was something special. Perhaps anyone would if they discovered the sepia toned stock of a classic hidden among the high-res of modern card collections.
I remember feeling proud of myself for scoring this coup among the kid collectors in my 6th grade class. I wasnít a serious sports fan like most of them; I tended to be more bookish and TV-oriented for several years (before and after my late elementary school years). Though to my credit, I had been to dozens of Celtics and Bruins games during their heyday of perpetual playoff berths in the 80ís. Bird, Bourque, McHale, Neely. Those being the only names I really knew.
Like many young ones at that age, I was drawn to what most of the other kids were doing, even if I only had a cursory knowledge of the subject. Participating in the act of card trading was more important to me than actually understanding it. I wanted to be credited for having the same interests and desired a social acceptance before I invested time in learning the details of the activity.
I usually brought hockey cards to school because that was my sport of choice. Others dealt primarily in baseball - a sport I had little exposure to. With the large exception of knowing only that I was a born and bred Red Sox fan and had been to a handful of games at Fenway, it all didnít quite register with me as much as the fast-paced, hard-hitting ballet of hockey.
It was probably the beginning of another Red Sox season that made the baseball cards start coming in again. No doubt everyone wanted to discuss their favorite players and make vain attempts at speaking in adult terms when deriding the new additions to the hometown team.
Our class had a short break before our music teacher came in to start his lesson and we were permitted to stretch our legs. The exit door to the playground adjacent to our classroom remained open to bring in a breeze while some took advantage to spend a few minutes in the sunlight.
Inside where I remained, a short, skinny kid who lived about a half mile from my house named Paul was alighted on a circular pressed wood table we used for small group reading. Just coming back from a card show with his father, Paul had new treasures to show a growing circle of boys. Paul was the serious collector of the group. His father was understood to be the patriarch of the artform. Transcribed as best as could be into Paulís young mind, admiration for his fatherís amassed knowledge manifested itself in the young curiosity now ringing around his son.
Paul talked fast. Knowing little about baseball cards at the time, I took the opportunity to tune out most of what he was saying and direct my attention to the binder he had next to him. Paul flipped through the plastic sheets, 3 rows of 3 cards neatly slotted next to each other, letting us take in the assembled magnificence. My freckled-faced friend Jake dared to stop him on a few of the pages and before long, the boys had stopped Paul enough that he kept the book propped open.
I hadnít seen too many old cards in my life and the page he stopped on had its share. Two things caught my eye - both of them yellowing Teddy Ballgame was peering through a wooden device the Navy used in the 50ís to take his eye examination. Not exactly the most flattering image. Jake, ever the intrepid friend, snatched up another card and looked at it.
The Ď59. My card.
ďYou can have that one,Ē Paul said to Jake. I was stunned. I never thought a card like that could be given away. Werenít there rules?
ďWhat am I going to do with this? Itís got two creases in the middle,Ē Jake said, his tone accusing Paul of some kind of scheme Jake was unwilling to be a part of. It was here that it first crossed my mind that the card might have something wrong with it. But it was beautiful. Ted was posing in front of the F9F Panther jet he crash landed in Korea. I knew only that the looming tail of the jet in the background interested me just as much as the Red Sox legend in the foreground.
Paul shrugged his shoulders. Jake passed it up.
I took the chance to reach over and pinch the top of the card as Jake was laying it down on the table. I remember holding it and no one else grabbing to have a look. A card like this comes along perhaps once in a lifetime. Even though Jakeís point was correct - the creases lower the value - I couldnít have cared. Having this card was the foundation of a decent collection that I envisioned myself one day having.
ďHey PaulÖcan I have this?Ē I said, raising my voice over the bustling of the other boys, who had moved on to some other interesting distraction. Another shrug from Paul. Disinterested.
It was mine.
Iíve always felt that itís hard to describe the initial attraction between any one thing that you may come across in your life. A must-have one day becomes rejected the next. Something inside is stirred and a desire to possess takes over. It may be fleeting in most cases. Cast aways are frequent with such a capricious feeling. Grabbing something in the fit of emotion denies the joy of pure possession for its own sake.
When you are young, it is this feeling that drives most of the acquisitions you make. It is rare to hold on to one thing throughout your childhood and most of your adult life. Whether the card holds monetary value or not, the private, sentimental celebration I take in looking at No. 9 in my own hands is worth the rock bottom price it may obtain on any market. Tanned and full of the same stuff that kept him going through two wars and 521 Home Runs spanning three decades. For the two decades Iíve had my piece of the Williams legend, itís his look on this card that mattered to my childhood- and now my adult- self.
I was curious when I got it and I donít think that has changed. Itís still the same face that looks up at me from it even if the face has changed that looks upon it. Iíve had Teddy buried for a while in that white shopping bag that I re-discovered him in. He deserves a more prominent spot around here.
-- thinkmatter a.k.a. jefferson --