If you saw my house, you’d immediately tag me as a pack rat; I don’t throw anything away. My garage is full of books, old computer parts, and some complete computers; my basement is stacked high with boxes of books, papers, and photographs going back more than thirty years. The floors on all levels are cluttered with statues, carvings of all kinds, trays and plaques that my wife and I can’t find wall space for, and odd pieces of furniture from our travels around the world; not to mention a museum quantity of Celadon vases from Korea, and pre-revolution Chinese vases, carved ducks, medicine cabinets (the Asian medicine kind with dozens of drawers engraved with Chinese characters) and more books.
I have a copy of every letter, award, or certificate that I’ve received since leaving my rural Texas home in 1962, some so faded they’re hard to read. None of this is worth anything in monetary terms, and probably won’t have any value until I die and my kids have to figure out what to do with it. But, I have one possession that ranks as ‘my most favorite thing.’
I got my start writing regularly in the 1960s with articles printed in newspapers and magazines, and even did a brief three year stint as editorial cartoonist for a small North Carolina weekly. I religiously clipped every article, photo and cartoon, and either taped or pasted them in an old brown imitation leather notebook that I picked up at a used book store in Fayetteville, near where I lived. Most of my stuff, junk, mementos, or whatever you choose to call it, stays stacked at home, even when I’m working abroad, only to be dug through when I’m trying to find some obscure fact, or I just need a break from writing or preparing for a speech, or I just want an excuse to get away from my wife nagging me about not shaving when I don’t have to make a public appearance. But, that old notebook goes with me everywhere.
I don’t often show it to others. Nowadays, yellowed newspaper and magazine clippings are viewed as museum pieces by most of the youngsters I associate with, and on the few occasions when I have shown my notebook to someone, I’ve had to spend more time explaining print journalism than bragging about my clippings. No, this item is for me; for those moments when I’m thinking about how I got hooked on writing in the first place; about the thrill I remembered whenever a magazine carried one of my articles, photos or cartoons. It’s neat now, being published on the Internet; knowing that tens of thousands of people can see your work. But, there’s still something about holding your published work in your hands; about knowing the effort that went into putting it in type or doing the litho that still gives me a little tingle. Those days are almost a thing of the past, and I often feel like an ancient derelict when I think about it. But, in my mind, when I’m flipping the pages of my notebook of clippings – gingerly now because it’s old and fragile – it’s just like it was yesterday. I can hear the clack and bang of the old offset presses that churned out the newspaper that carried my weekly editorial cartoon; the sound of typewriters and harried voices on the phone as reporters struggled to meet deadlines; I can still feel the rush I got when I pulled a magazine from the mailbox, knowing that one of my articles, photos, or cartoons would be somewhere in those pages.
That old notebook, the cover cracked and beginning to fade, is more precious to me than all the gold in Fort Knox. If the house caught fire, right after making sure the wife was safe and retrieving my passport and credit cards, that would be what I would save. In fact, I might even grab it first.