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Wednesday, January 6, 2010


People collect things.

Collections usually tell us something about the collector. Ben collects IRL driver stat sheets. Phillip is collecting Transformers and Molly collects everything! My parents seem to be collecting doctors' bills and Angelina Jolie collects children. What we collect can be very revealing.

Collections can range from the ridiculous to the pricess. For a while, as a child I collected dryer lint (I'm still not sure what that says about me). Tony collected newspaper and magazine articles about athletes that interested him. The father of my fellow allergy mom, Melissa, spent his life collecting watches.

Some collections are of your choosing, but others are thrust upon you. I suspect my sister-in-law doesn't really intend to collect snow globes. But even in that, the collection reveals something about her.

Collections are usually a work in progress. They are in an unvarying state of unfinishedness, which is perhaps what draws people to them. A constant "something to acquire" list -- or perhaps a driving "to do" list; or "more is better" philosophy; it probably depends on the collector.

Recently I've been fascinated with collections as my father unearthed my grandmother's cross collection. It was something I had heard about over the years, but as my grandmother passed away when I was just three-years-old, it was more lore than something tangible to me. I had seen bits and pieces of the collection -- including losing a cross when I dressed as a nun for Halloween at age 8! But this Fall, my dad pulled out every piece of it. All 400 plus crosses.

The captivating part of collections is the stories that accompany them. And boy do these crosses have stories.

It began during World War II when my grandfather was the pastor of a Disciples of Christ church in Kansas City, MO. He gave a $5 bill to members who were being sent overseas in the military and asked them, "to be on the lookout for an interesting cross for Willina," (a.k.a Grammie). Crosses arrived from Europe and around the globe.

As a school teacher, my Grammie was drawn to studying the various forms and history of the cross and created a presentation which she gave to dozens of groups. A number of newspapers even featured articles about her and her collection. One cross is covered with woven human hair; and the oldest cross is from the 13th century. My grandfather added crosses he made out of alabaster to the compliation, and my father even added a glow-in-the-dark beauty to the grouping! Grammie lovingly placed it next to some of the most "valuable" crosses.

While the stories of the majority of the crosses died with my Grammie, my father decided that it was time that the collection had a new story. So he chose a select number of crosses to go to First Christian Church in Boulder, CO where my grandfather served as pastor and where the collection came to its final form. Those crosses belong there -- sharing their stories with all the people who walk past their display. Following Ben and Molly's recent baptism, they were allowed to peruse the collection and choose the crosses that spoke to them. Both of them beamed with pride at their choices and keep them in a treasured spot. I have selected a cross for Phil when it is time for his baptism.

My siblings and I also selected crosses that caught our fancy. I can't wait to find the perfect spot for my stained glass beauty. I need to hang it where I will see it every day. It is a concrete reminder of my dad, my Grammie and my history through God. But that's not it for this collection. After the personal crosses had been picked out, my father put the remaining 350 plus crosses on display for the congregation at our current church. He invited each individual present to select one or more to take home with them.

I watched as a 10-year-old girl gleefully skipped up to me to show me her cross, and I watched as a quiet Asian immigrant contemplated the cross he chose as he left the church that morning. I received an email of thanks from one older member as he shared with me his affection for my folks. The people were as diverse as the crosses. I can't tell you how much joy watching that collection dissipate brought to me and my father. It was the right thing to do.

A colelction can be a stagnant grouping of meaningless things that do nothing but collect their own dust, or a collection can be turned into a dynamic statement of love and affirmation of life. for these are the things we truly should collect!

A True Christmas Tale (Dec. 05)

Shortly after my parents were married, they came across a Creche set in a small store in a small town in California. They were taken by its simplicity and beauty and bought what they could afford -- the holy family -- although there were many more pieces that were a part of this set.

Each Christmas they added another piece to the set and as their family grew, so did the set. A little boy, a little girl and an angel were all added to represent the births of each of their children. They added animal figurines on years when their family did not expand.

It was a tradition they loved.

Even when they moved from California, my parents were able to "mail order" pieces for it. -- a big deal in the era before internet shopping.

But when the store in Sausilito closed, it seemed the Creche set would forever remain as it was. It was magnificent! There must have been some 20 pieces to it by then, including three kings, a shepherd, and creatures of all sorts.

Years passed and although the Creche set didn't grow or change, the family continued to grow and change as the children became teenagers. The one thing we all agreed on was the beauty of that Creche set. Every year it brought us together. Each Thanksgiving my dad brought the box down from the attic and we eagerly unwrapped each character from its tissue paper shroud.

Ten years after we ordered our last figurine, my parents went to New Orleans to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and take a Mississippi Riverboat cruise. As they were wandering around the city of New Orleans prior to boarding, they meandered past a small store. In that small store's window was their Creche set -- looming larger than life.

The Creche set on display was indeed by the same artisans, and as the Riley family had grown, so had the number of pieces available for the set. My parents inquired about ordering figurines and went home excited to continue the tradition that had started so many states and lives ago.

And once again, on Thanksgiving, my family would get out the Creche set, set up the pieces, look at the order form and decide upon a figurine to add to the collection -- ordering each year from that small store in New Orleans. It was a tradition we loved.

There were years when money was tight -- so a snake or a mouse joined the set. And there were years when money was not as tight and a bear or a baby elephant ambled onto the scene.

There were years when grandchildren joined the family, and they too were represented with figurines. A lifelong friend passed away and another angel joined the set. The set now had some 40 pieces to it.

And then came Hurricane Katrina...

Horrified at the devastation, my parents also knew in the back of their minds that it must be the end of the store that carried our Creche set pieces. There was no way that small store could have survived. And there was a new grandson to honor with a figurine.

Two months after the hurricane, my parents tried to contact the store. But the phone just rang and rang and rang. Just before Thanksgiving my mom decided to give it one more try -- she just couldn't give up. She dialed the number and the phone rang and rang and ... was answered. The store was back in business!

This year, the day after Thanksgiving, the Creche set came out and a figurine was ordered.

God is good.