It’s a mid-winter Thursday, still dark and a little cold both inside and out. I like it like this, even though my bare feet on the wood floors would disagree. It’s hard to believe, but we made it until November without turning on the furnace—which is a remarkable achievement in this part of the country—but it was time to close the bedroom windows and call the beast into service. It won’t take long for the house to warm up from a brisk sixty degrees to a more tolerable sixty-five degrees and it’s remarkable what a difference five degrees can make, but sometimes it’s more than heat that can make a house comfortable.
It’s nice in our house, thanks in large part to my wife’s decorating sensibilities, but I’d like to think that I had at least a small influence. Everybody should feel comfortable in their own home, and much of that comfort has to do with being surrounded by meaningful items that have been accumulated over time. Some people are avid, purposeful collectors while others seem to accumulate accidently. I suppose I’m a little of both.
I don’t collect anything to excess, but I know there are people who have shelves and cartons chock-full of quirky collectibles. I might have two, maybe three or in some cases four or five of some things but that’s about it. Most of the items I’ve collected wouldn’t mean much to anyone else and collecting anything on speculation of future value doesn’t interest me. I simply don’t have the discipline or the desire, so that ruled out Star Wars figures, Matchbox cars, metal lunchboxes or any other Baby Boomer closet flotsam. Who knew in 1973 that a Fantastic Four #1 comic would be worth around sixteen thousand dollars today? Certainly not me and especially not my mom: “You want these, come get them or I’m throwing them out,” she said. I didn’t care enough to get them, so out they went.
What I do like are old cameras and typewriters, and I have a few of each. I have an interest in photography, so that explains the cameras and I should say I love old typewriters because I’m a writer, but that’s not entirely true. I love typewriters because they are extremely complicated and precise machines that do a simple thing well and when this tool was placed in front of a talented writer—remarkably well.
These beautiful machines are antiquated reminders of a bygone era, their gears, bands, and levers being replaced by gigabytes of code, and paper traded for HD graphics. We don’t type anymore, we word process; silently clicking away on fussy little keyboards, deleting and adding with ease. Having these old, manual machines around reminds me of a time when each word mattered.
It’s not as if the house is brimming with these items. My daughter gave me a fully functional 1927 Underwood No. 5 typewriter for Christmas a few years ago, and it’ll be hard to top that unless I stumble on something even cooler, which I don’t think is possible. My typewriter collection will likely stall out at a mint condition 1953 Smith-Corona Silent. I bought that as soon as I saw it because it was the one we had in our house when I grew up.
The cameras are not extraordinary at first glance. They’re mostly Kodak cameras because I grew up in Kodak Town USA, but three of them have special meaning to me. I have a Kodak instant camera that my late uncle owned—the one that cost the company a fortune when Polaroid sued them and won. There’s also an Agfa Isolette, which my late father-in-law brought over from Germany and there’s my own Canon AE-1 Program, which was a gift from my wife over three decades ago. Each of these cameras, like the typewriters, reminds me of something or someone. This is what I think collecting should do.
These bits of memorabilia probably aren’t as exciting as a room full of vintage PEZ dispensers or rookie season baseball cards and are likely worth a heck of a lot less on eBay, but I like having them around. They’re functional accessories; pieces in a collection of items accumulated over time and when added together with everything else, they make this place feel like home.