I was recently reminded of a scene from the old “Sanford and Son” sitcom starring Red Foxx. Sanford (played by Foxx) was sitting in the chair across from the lending officer at the bank and was seeking what would today be called a small business loan. As the interrogation moved forward and the questions grew more pointed, Sanford was asked what he did for a living. He replied, “I’m a collector… I collect junk.”
Well indeed one man’s junk is another man’s treasure or in fact, another man’s livelihood.
For well over 35 years, I’ve collected. And, I’m sure to a lot of people including kids, ex-wives, skeptical friends and relatives a lot of what I collected was junk. The range of “stuff” I’ve hauled home spans what even the most skeptical would admit is antique quality furniture, pottery, rugs and primitive old tools to other far less encouraging sheds and shacks full of tin, steel, rough wood and old books. I still have more of it than I need, not as much as I would like and more than I have room for.
Over the years a good bit of my unwieldy collection of assorted “stuff” held its value and some of it even appreciated to the point where when I needed cash to cover some of life’s indiscretions I was able to sell enough to cover legal fees, moving expenses and on some occasions a can of soup or a bag of potatoes.
I once recall needing money to make a down payment on my son’s dental braces at a time when there were more bills than there was cash. Some years before, I had bought an oriental rug at an auction next door to my house in Virginia for more than one ex-wife thought was prudent and I still had the rug, having salvaged it in one of life’s distributions of property. When my son called asking for the money, I called an auctioneer friend and told him my dilemma and asked what did he think the rug might fetch. Two days later he brought me a check for $1,900. I was able to make a 20 percent down payment on a five-year dental plan. Admittedly, not all purchases and transactions have had the same fortunate results.
Last week my wife and I were visiting her 80-year-old father in West Texas where he has a “Sanford and Son” collection of assorted treasures strewn over 20 acres or so on the edge of Big Spring. As Oreo and I were mulling through the acres we came across some badly worn, rusted and dilapidated items… tricycles, wagons, wheelbarrows… that she thought she could incorporate into the landscaping project we’ve undertaken. Though her father has historically been very possessive of his “property,” the years seem to loosen the emotional grip and he told her she could have nearly everything she was coveting and some other things I think he just wanted to get rid of.
Anyway we loaded up the Jeep with an eclectic assortment of stuff that could only have sentimental value because it’s monetary value is certainly elusive. However, I’m sure the flower pots and plants will give it all a new dimension and resurrected function in the universe. It reminded me of some of the days I stood, teeth chattering, in a Minnesota winter at a farm sale in the middle of nowhere waiting to buy a wooden wash tub or a broken handled Keen Kutter ax, or a sweltering Mississippi summer afternoon waiting to get to a box of old books with a first edition copy of “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen” by Florence King buried at the bottom. Collectors have a seemingly insatiable tolerance for discomfort in the pursuit of what in many cases is, in fact, junk.
On the way home we chuckled about “Sanford and Son,” the collectors, and Oreo suggested that maybe we need to erect a sign at the edge of the driveway “Sanford and Wife — Collectors.”
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@