Many years ago, so long ago that I've forgotten his name, so long ago that he called all the women in the office his "girls," though we ranged in age from thirty-something to sixty-something, I had a boss who collected tape cassettes of old radio shows. He was interesting in other ways, too. His five-minute rant on why he never ate chicken was breathtaking, and if I could remember it I would repeat it to you; it had to do with the quantity and toxicity of the chemicals the poor birds were stuffed with before they were offered for human consumption. The radio shows were particularly interesting to me, as a nostalgic child of the forties. They were harder to find in those days than they are now.
So when I came upon a source of them somehow—it might have been in Yankee Magazine, there was no internet—I naturally offered to pass on the information to Mr. Whatzisname. He smilingly declined. "Last year I turned fifty," he said. "I don't collect things anymore."
At the time I was not yet fifty, not even forty, and I collected things very happily whenever I had the money and the space. Sweaters. Dishes. Puppets. Musical instruments that I hadn't time to learn to play. The idea that collecting must come to an end in every life went over me like a bucket of ice water. It seemed tragic. I felt sorry for him.
Now I am no longer thirty, nor yet forty, nor even fifty or sixty, and I look at all the stuff I have collected over the years and think, not only is it time to stop, but it's time to get rid of a lot of it. Not the sweaters, of course. The moths take care of that. I can scarcely keep up with replacing what they spoil. Or the dishes. We have to eat off of something, and who wants to use the same old dishes day after day? But maybe the puppets. I haven't performed with puppets in almost thirty years.
My sister once bought me a set of Pelham puppets depicting Henry the Eighth and all his wives, collectible puppets whose strings are too short to make them good performers. At one time I was going to fit them up with longer strings and put on a show. I will not do that now. First of all I don't feel like it, and secondly it would ruin their monetary value. I can just hear the dealers on Antiques Road Show telling one of my descendants how much they would be worth, if only Great-Granny hadn't boogered up the strings.
In fact I would sell them today if I had a buyer. I have their boxes and certificates and everything. Furthermore I no longer think it's tragic to stop collecting what fascinated you once, not even tragic to lose interest in the passions of your youth. Not as long as you have new passions. I might have a passion for a stark and tidy living space, one where everything has a place and occupies it, preferably out of sight. I might go clean the kitchen now. Or I might put my feet up and listen to something from my record collection, which I will never weed, no matter how old I get.
© 2015 Kate Gallison