Whatever exists, we collect it

We are collectors by birthright. Our first primal instincts are to eat, sleep, drool, fill diapers, and wrap our tiny fists around any pacifer in the vicinity.

Woe to the adult who attempts to swipe our Binky. We have collected it, and it is ours.

Once we leave the crib, we move on to collecting pretty pebbles, stray string, fuzzy lint and slow bugs. Not having rooms of our own yet, we tend to store our collections in our mouths.

As toddlers, we discover closets and cupboards.

Our next discovery is that Mom tends to discourage – with ear-splitting decisiveness – our attempts to stow our brand-new worm collection in her dainties drawers.

It’s a minor setbacks. Because we are collectors by nature, and we’re on a roll. Barbies, Tonka trucks, baseball cards, pencils, arrest warrants … For the rest of our lives, we find stuff we like, and we stockpile it.

I think the great conquerors of history are just boys whose collections got out of hand. Had Matchbox cars been invented then, Attila the Hun might have stayed home to work on his collection of tiny classic muscle cars instead of grabbing large chunks of Europe.

Our very DNA seems to be a collection of hunter-and-gatherer genes. Thimbles, postage stamps, manual typewriters, souvenir spoons, refrigerator magnets, fishing flies, leftover husbands – if it exists, somebody makes a hobby of it.

My brother and one of our cousins used to collect beer cans. They were 9 at the time, and we grew up in the teetotalingest of teetotalling families. So they resorted to hunting and gathering in roadside ditches. They built three massive pyramids of muddy, crinkled cans along the sideboards in our barn.

”But Mom,” I protested, ”people will think that we drink.”

”I wonder,” she mused, ”what they think of your squashed roadkill frog collection?”

Totally different. Squashed frogs made interesting shapes, were great for scaring girls at school, and served as awesome bookmarks for my comic book collection. My collections made sense. Theirs was stupid.

Years later, I noticed that my extensive collection of coffee mugs lined more sideboards, shelves and cabinets than I actually possessed. And I don’t even drink coffee.

That’s one of the problems with collections. We work hard to find a place for our stuff. But our stuff doesn’t necessarily feel the same about leaving a place for us.

As kids, our collections were useful. You could throw ditch-dirty beer cans out the hayloft door so your buddies could try to whack them out of midair with their collections of rocks, baseball bats, rubber bands or squirt guns.

By the time we’re adults, the more pointless a collection, the more we make a hobby of collecting it. Until it has collected us.

For example, my Coca-Cola memorabilia room started out as a kitchen. I think there’s still a stove somewhere in the Coke room. But I’m not sure.

Here’s a plan: Tomorrow, let’s shake off the shackles of being collected by our collections.

Let’s recycle it all and take back our space.

Besides, I just found this really cool squashed frog, and …

—- Collect Cole’s latest novel, ”Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper” (from B&H Kids) at bookstores. Add to Cole’s collection of email at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.