I believe children should keep collections. You know, things that they can be proud of and keep in a little cigar box in their bedroom closet.
For me, it was pens and pencils. An uncle somewhere once found out that I didn’t collect anything, so one day my dad came through the door with a package and inside was an old cigar box full of pens and pencils, each printed with company names from strange exotic places, like Ohio (Actually, I think they were all from Ohio), and from exciting businesses like Al’s A1 Automotive Repair and General Electric Credit Union (with a small section of the segmented chain still danging off the end). I would often close my door and take this box down off my closet shelf so I could dig through the collection and dream about how much I could sell them for later on in life. One of the pencils was silver and glittered somewhat in the light creeping through a crack in my closet door and it was sharpened to a very clean point, much sharper than any other pencil in my collection. I was certain that this one would be my retirement someday.
My point is, I support children having collections of things that are meaningful to them and I totally understand that value is a subjective measurement. So, it really pains me to have to tell Lydia that her collection is dumb and she needs to stop.
I was first introduced to her collection a few weeks ago when we pulled into the driveway and she immediately jumped out of the car and went racing down the street in the direction we had just come from.
“What are you doing?!” I yelled after her.
“I saw something out the window!” She skidded to a halt a hundred or so feet away from the house and stooped to pick something up from the gravel shoulder of the road, and then she came galloping back, joyously holding something ugly in the air above her head.
“What is that?” I asked.
She just shrugged her shoulders and offered it to me, as if hoping I would be able to identify it for her.
“Um, okay. I think that’s a busted socket from a very large ratchet wrench of something,” I told her, but honestly it was hard to tell. It appeared to have been broken in half and what was left was covered in a coat of orange and brown rust.
“Neat,” she said hugging it to her chest. “I’m going to add it to my collection then.”
I made a sour face. There were apparently layers to this nonsense I had not been prepared to encounter. “Okay, what? You have a broken socket set collection?”
“No,” she laughed at the thought. “I have a ‘Weird-Things-I-Found-On-The-Side-of-the-Road’ Collection.”
I shook my head. “No. No, you do not. That’s ridiculous.”
She was defiant. “I do too.”
“Where? How? What is even in this collection?”
She looked down at the rusty metal object in her hands. “Well, this is in my collection and it’s a weird thing I found on the side of the road. And also I found a piece of rope this summer down by the mailbox.”
I waited, but that was the end of the list.
“That’s not a collection. That’s two things you have no business even touching.”
Her face was hard and stoic. She held her rusty socket away from me as if it were a boyfriend that she had brought by to visit that I wasn’t able to appreciate. ‘We are in love, Dad.’ her face seemed to say. ‘You will never understand what it means to be in love like we are in love.’
I sighed. “Lydia, that thing doesn’t come into the house.”
She smiled, “Okay!”
“You can put it next to the garage or something, but I do not want to find this or your piece of rope or whatever in the house.”
“Yes! Yes!” she darted away.
Several times since then I have noticed the little girl with her face pressed up against the car window staring out at the ditch, hunting. We stop at intersections and she will see something that strikes her interest. “Dad! Can I get out! I see something over there for my collection!”
And I sigh and say no, “Sweetheart that is a wet garage sale sign that someone forgot to take down last summer. You do not want that.”
“But I do want it, Dad.”
“No, you said you want Weird Things. That is just trash.”
And we drive on. And I secretly pray for snow to fall on the sides of the road and hope that her attention span is short enough that she will forget all about her collection by next Spring.
But maybe she will never forget. And maybe someday I’ll be proven wrong. Perhaps my odd little girl with her collection of roadside garbage will someday be the curator of “Madame Lydia’s Museum of Discarded Things and Items No One Has Any Business Even Touching” Perhaps she will greet me at the door, and her eyes will twinkle with an unspoken “I told you so.” And I will laugh and hug her neck. And perhaps in a corner of the gift shop will be a small cigar box full of replicas of her father’s old pens and pencils, and I will retire on my 5% of the profits.