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Mon, Feb. 17

Column: Dad collected everything except, thankfully, toilet paper

I like to collect things. Seems like I always have.

When I was about 10 or 12 years old, I received a stamp album for Christmas. Later, I began to collect Lincoln pennies. I can still remember how thrilled I was when I found a stamp or a penny I could add to my collection.

I was dedicated to my hobbies and read everything I could find about rare or hard-to-find stamps and coins. Although I dreamed of making a great discovery and diligently checked every coin I could get my hands on, I never even came close to "finding a fortune in my dresser drawer."

I also like to collect other things, if for no other reason than to have the whole set. I came by my desire to collect honestly. I got it from my father. He liked to collect things, too.

Although, as I look back, he mostly liked to save stuff. He would save a sample of each pattern of Christmas wrapping paper, and he would save the tags from the presents.

More than one Christmas, I had to go out to the garbage and sort through the discarded wrapping paper looking for those tags. He also saved the tag put on the Christmas tree by the Forest Service, as well as a piece of the base of the tree, which he carefully had cut off.

One corner of our attic was piled high with empty boxes: short boxes, shoeboxes, plain old cardboard boxes. If you wanted to package a present, you could surely find just the right size.

Use it up

Dad grew up in an era when the motto was, "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without." Nothing was wasted.

He was raised by an aunt and two uncles who never threw away anything that might possibly be used again. They saved string, brown paper sacks, old newspapers and magazines. It is somehow ironic that their basement was so filled with clutter that it is unlikely they could ever find what they sought.

A job to do

My dad grew up during the Great Depression. That doesn't mean a whole lot to those of who didn't, but to say times were hard would be an understatement. It was not that jobs were hard to find: It's that there were no jobs.

Dad would talk about trying to survive during those times. Often, he would find work on one of several WPA projects. He would tell how lucky he was to get one of those jobs.

He complained that the work was hard, the foreman was an idiot and that he was not being paid enough. Then, he would say that you did not dare drop your shovel because there were 10 guys waiting to grab it and go to work.

He told me once that the worst feeling you could imagine was to report to a job site and have the foreman say, "Sorry, fellas, I've got all the help I need. Try again tomorrow."

There was an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach that wasn't all disappointment.

But then he would laugh and tell about some of the jobs he had to do. Like the one time the foreman assigned him and another guy to shovel a load of gravel into the back of a truck.

Several hours later, the foreman came back. Seeing two hot, tired, sweaty men, he commented, "I thought you would be done by now."

"Yeah, I thought we would be done, too," Dad replied.

It was during those times that my dad learned about value and getting your money's worth. Our family thought he was cheap, that he was a penny pincher who would never spend a nickel he did not have to. We never realized that he grew up during a time when nickels were few and hard to come by.

Dad was frugal, which created consternation for Mom. Dad was careful with his money and had improvised a bookkeeping system so that he could account for every nickel spent.

Mom had devised her own system and always managed to have a few dollars that Dad did not know about. When any of us kids needed money, we would go to Mom, and she always managed to come through.


For many years, Dad had only two hobbies. One was making model airplanes. He would sit at the kitchen table in the evenings, listening to radio programs like "The Shadow" or "Gangbusters" or "Fibber McGee and Molly."

He would spread a newspaper over the table and sit there, carefully carving parts for an airplane out of balsa wood. After painstakingly shaping and sanding each part, he would glue them together and finally paint the finished craft.

He eventually amassed a collection of more than 600 planes before he no longer could make his hands perform, and he gave up that hobby.

His other hobby was baseball. The city of Ogden, Utah, was home to the Ogden Reds. They were a farm team for the Cincinnati Reds, and he loved them.

Dad would save all of the newspapers until there was a large pile, all neatly bundled. Then periodically, he would take a bundle and go through the sports pages, clipping out articles on his favorite teams and pasting them into a large scrapbook.

He had several scrapbooks filled, and a big pile of newspapers waiting, when it was announced that the Reds were moving the team to another city.

Dad was devastated. I don't believe he ever watched another baseball game.

Under attack

But he still liked to collect things, and the delight he took in collecting and saving stuff would make him the target of attack at the dinner table.

I remember one time when my oldest sister, Pat, quipped that she would not be surprised if he was saving his old toilet paper.

Then my older brother, Larry, chipped in: "Yeah, he could write the date on it and what he had for dinner."

Dad enjoyed a good joke, even if it was at his expense. His face would turn red and tears would run from his eyes, he was laughing so hard.

Then Mom joined in with the comment, "Don't give him any more ideas."

At that, I began laughing so hard I fell off the chair. I'm not sure if Mom was serious about that, but with Dad, you never knew.

Dad liked to read and had a large collection of paperback books. They were Westerns and mysteries. He made boxes for them, and stacked them in the attic by his airplane room. I think he had almost every Western or mystery book every written.

He would go up into the attic, pick out five or six books, and then after reading them, he would make another trip up and grab a few more. He used to brag that he was glad he had a poor memory and that he could not remember anything about a book after he had read it.

From air to rail

He became interested in trains and had collected hundreds of freight cars, locomotives and books and magazines about trains. He drafted my younger brother, Dennis, who was still living at home, to help him assemble and run his train yard.

Now, with his interest in trains, he no longer cared about his airplanes. He began giving them away to his many grandkids. With the airplanes gone, the room where he had kept them was standing idle.

Then, Dad started collecting whiskey bottles. You cannot imagine the number and variety of distilled liquors there are.

He loved to travel, and in every town he visited he would peruse the various "glass works" or "bottle shops" for a new variety to add to his collection.

Mom used to claim that when their luggage was being loaded into a cab or plane, it gurgled. Dad never seemed to notice: He was more concerned whether he had packed it well enough that it would not break.

Basement gremlins

He also started a collection of beer cans. In the basement of his home were stacks of cases of beers that he had collected. He often said that one day, he would get a can and drink it. You can imagine his disappointment when one day he went down to the basement, and after removing the top case, discovered some gremlins had apparently attacked his stash and drank all of his beer.

Needless to say, Dad was not happy.

He complained to me about his loss. I mentioned that he still had his whiskey bottles, and he shot back, "Yeah, but they're all empty."

"So are your beer cans," I replied.

Poor Dad. He never got no respect.

I learned later that he had been collecting the bottles his instant coffee came in. He kept them on top of a shelf in the cupboard in the kitchen. He had quite a few of them until Mom decided she needed the space for dishes and disposed of his collection.

"I can't keep anything," Dad complained.

Then he started saving plastic bags. After carefully folding them, he could put them into an empty Kleenex box. When the box was full, he would take it to the attic and hide it in his somewhat vacant airplane room, with the whiskey bottles.

After he passed away, Mom had some of us kids clean out the attic, throwing away his hoard of empty boxes waiting to be filled with presents, his bottle collection, and when they were discovered, his collection of plastic bags.

The family had acceded to my mother's wishes to clean out the attic. They had thrown away all of Dad's collections, but they were disappointed somehow. They never found a box marked "toilet paper."

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