There’s a Depression-era radio that sits on top of our bookcase. It’s about two feet tall and has an east-west, north-south dial, but you can’t pick up any station. The loose battery wires hold no charge.
Sometimes I imagine being able to shake that thing awake, resuscitate the Rip Van Winkle of a radio through the wall socket. I picture the other end of the radio wave, the announcer of yesteryear breathing into a large microphone and holding a yellowed newspaper. He reads the names of the long gone to the radio listeners. I picture the house as it was when the radio talked and imagine a bucket and hands busy shelling peas on the porch as the old news turns to gospel.
Nowadays, we watch the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. I even flip to this without my wife in the room, which my younger self would see as a sad sight if he could get a glimpse. But it’s interesting to look at old items and hear how someone’s big elm-wood bowl used as a childhood snow sled is actually a Native American relic and worth quite a bit of money.
Of course, we rely on the dollar figure to confirm worth. Some folks spend Saturdays searching for the steal, hoping some poor fool doesn’t realize the treasure he’s giving up.
Who doesn’t dream of the easy buck?
For a time, I was a card hunter. I had a complete 1983 Fleer set of baseball cards tucked away, believing the cardboard box was like a bar of gold. Who wouldn’t pay a good dollar for the set that includes Wade Boggs’ rookie card? Later, I bought a Barry Bonds rookie card, sure that I would be able to cash it in one day for a tidy profit. Of course, like the housing market, Bonds went from “prime” to “subprime.”
But my card-collecting days are long gone. The fact is, I’m not a savvy collector of anything, not someone who could turn a good profit at the flea market, not a salesman or a keen-eyed antique consumer.
No, I’m more interested in the sentimental value of things. Everyone has his own personal treasures that aren’t worth much to anyone else. I have mine, too.
Before long, my daughter will let go of her “Dow,” a soft pink thing she sleeps with. Of course, my wife and I won’t ever let go of it. We can’t hold on to her childhood, but we will hold that dog-eared relic. And that softness in the hands is a powerful thing to me, even now.
I think of this past Father’s Day, when my mom gave me a framed copy of a poem my father had written to his father on Father’s Day 1972, the year I was born. My mom was pregnant with me when she neatly stenciled the words for my dad. He was clearly thinking about becoming a father, while wanting to let his dad know what he thought of him.
My father is an accomplished writer. And he seems embarrassed to let anyone read anything that hasn’t cleared his rigorous self-editing process. He throws away much more than he keeps. We never see the stuff that doesn’t cut it. I think of how the flood of 1994 wiped out my childhood home, including the basement, where my father and I tossed out stacks of his early writing, which had marinated in the flood’s sewage soup. He seemed unfazed as we dropped all that writing in trash bags. That early work was part of a process, “just practice.” His success came off his later writing.
But I’m really thankful to have the old, “flawed” poem that remains in the frame, a tribute to my dad’s dad who died 20 years ago last week.
The poem closes with this:
“For silent years
the trust of children
in the passing by
A faith of understanding
down the line
which does not turn,
To ask for ourselves
only the wisdom
of our father.”
That old radio has sat silent for many years, but I look at it and think of how certain things in our lives are full of old voices. These things are not always easy to look at, but their value is not a question.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.