How a Joke Became an Obsession
8 Years of Collecting
It all began when I was 16. In December of 2000, my grandfather suffered a severe stroke and lost 90% of the use of his left side. To prevent having to place my grandfather in a nursing home, my mother moved the three of us into his home, quit her job, and became his full time caretaker. Having retired from working for CSX Railroad, my grandfather received enough money every month to support the four of us.
Life wasn't easy living under my grandfather's roof. He had very special needs that he couldn't tend to on his own. My mother occasionally enlisted the assistance of my sister and I so that she could get out of the house. We would have to prepare all of his meals, help him use the restroom, monitor his blood sugar levels (he was diabetic) administer doses of insulin, and tend to anything else he asked for.
Why am I telling you these details? If we hadn't moved in with my grandfather, I would never have started collecting spoons. Later that year my mother and grandfather decided that they should take a vacation out to Nebraska. My grandfather had been born and raised in Columbus, and he wanted to see his family one last time before he passed away. My mother made arrangements for my sister and I to stay with family in Ohio while they were away.
Before leaving, my mother asked both my sister and I if we would like a souvenir from Nebraska. I cannot recall what my sister asked for, and I didn't really want anything. I said something along the following to my mother, "I don't know. I don't really want anything. Why don't you just bring me a spoon." She asked me, "A spoon? Like one you eat with?" to which I replied, "No, one of those ones that say Nebraska on them." She hadn't really heard of what I was talking about, but she promised that she would look around.
It became a tradition that every night, my mother would call to check on us, to see how our days were going and to see if we needed anything. Jokingly, I always inquired, "So Mom, did you find my spoon?" She always said that she had looked around but never saw one. I really didn't want a spoon, I just thought that I would name something ridiculous in hopes of sending my mother on a wild goose chase. And what a chase it was. My mother looked high and low in just about every gift shop and gas station that she came to. I cannot recall the name of the business that she finally found one at, but they had been out of stock for most of grandfather's trip and had just restocked them soon before they returned.
When my mother and grandfather returned, my mother presented us with our gifts. Again, I don't know what she had gotten my sister. But she had brought me a keychain that said Nebraska on it, to which I exclaimed, "This isn't a spoon". She also had brought me a small dragon statue and a small science toy that when you shook it, it created a small tornado. I was excited at both of these presents, but I was truly shocked when I received the last. She handed me a small plastic box. When I turned it over, I was shocked to see a 4 inch silver spoon inside with a flag at the top and Nebraska in large bold letters.
As soon as I had realized my mother had kept her word, I asked her, "What am I supposed to do with this?" She told me that she didn't know, that I had asked for it and she assumed I knew what to do with a spoon. And so I had my first spoon. As we all know, one does not make a collection. The spoon sat in its plastic case, buried in a box for a full year. It had faded to a faint memory. Finally, the summer came around again, and my grandfather decided that he wanted to go to Nebraska again. This became the beginning of an annual tradition of a family trip to see our family out west. I was the only person in the house to never actually get to travel out to the ranch.
Before leaving, my mother asked again if we wanted anything, and I told her that I wanted another spoon. Of course I was joking around, and I think my mother knew that. She had told me that I already had a spoon, that I didn't need another. I told her I wanted a different spoon, that I collected them. She laughed and said that she'd see what she could do. Again, I stayed behind, this time my sister went with them. I remained behind so that I could attend Boy Scout summer camp, as the camp would be starting 1 week after they left and 1 week before they would return.
Well, excluding a bit of drama from Scout Camp, we were reunited 2 weeks later. She promptly presented me with not just one, but 3 spoons. She had bought one from Nebraska, and having driven the entire way there and back, she had also bought me one from Illinois and Ohio. And so the collecting began. I now had 4 spoons, which I deemed enough to declare a collection.
Soon, I began asking everyone I knew that was going on trips to bring me back a spoon. I would also keep an eye out them in my slight travels.
The collection grew very slowly, as I rarely left the city, let alone the state. Occasionally the collection would grow by 1-2 spoons as my mother's boyfriend traveled a lot for work. Friends and family would occasionally send a spoon or bring me one as a surprise. My collection soon reached what I felt was an impressive 30 spoons. I thought that I had finally achieved a collection worthy of displaying. My mother and I immediately sought out a spoon display rack, and I proudly hung them on a wall in my kitchen. A year or two later, and the collection had outgrown the rack. I had just resolved to displaying only my favorites, and only 1 from each state.
At this point, I have now left my first wife, and am living with my current wife Kris. We were in the process of moving from our first apartment. As we were packing everything, we were throwing away as much as we could to save room. Finally, we came to my spoon rack. I started packing the spoons into a box, so they wouldn't fall off the rack and get lost. Kris looked at the rack, told me that she thought it was ugly and that I should throw it away. I didn't want to at first, but logic overrode emotion and I tossed it into the pile of trash.
This act left my spoon collection piled in a box, and tucked away into a closet, almost forgotten. While I had just about given up on my spoon collection, my best friend Mark, who had recently joined the US Army had not. He had been traveling around the US for Basic Training, AIT, and finally getting stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The entire time, he always took the time to watch for spoons. I didn't know that he had been doing this. He surprised me with a bag full of spoons on one of his block leaves. This simple act of kindness reignited my passion for my collection, and I decided that I wanted to find a way to display my collection once again.
Unfortunately, finances did not allow me to buy the spoon rack that I had wanted. Racks that can hold that many spoons do not come cheap. Meanwhile, the collection was growing at a reckless rate, mostly due to Mark's many travels with the Army. He was stationed in Iraq for a year, and made sure to buy a spoon at every plane connection. When he returned from the war, he ended up bringing me 8 new spoons.
The collection had actually outgrown the box that they were being stored in. Rather than try and find a rack that could handle that many spoons, Kris and I decided that it would be a fun project for me to make my own rack. Twenty dollars and a few hours of work proved to be sufficient. I had made the rack large enough to allow the collection to grow for a while, with room for around 40 new spoons.
I now find myself sitting under my collection, which is proudly hung on the wall in our new apartment. There are only 8 empty spots left to fill, and I am pretty sure those spots will be filled within the year. Soon I will break the 100 spoon threshold, and I just can't wait to see which state or country it is that pushes me over this plateau. I now have spoons from over 20 states, 10 countries, and a countless number of tourist attractions.
So there you have it. My spoon collection has become as dear to me as I can imagine a physical possession could be. If my home were to catch fire, I most assuredly would attempt to save the collection, even before my electronics. While the collection as a whole is impressive, this collection means so much more. Each spoon is a symbol of the love each of my friends and family members have for me. Every one of these spoons serve as a remind that I am not alone in this world, and that I am surrounded by people who love and treasure me.
So the joke become an obsession, and a support system that has provided a needed leg up in my most depressing moments. If I ever need a reminder why I am here, I just have to look up at the wall above my couch and the warmth will fill my heart and mind once more.
I can only hope that you, my dear readers, are as blessed as I am.