Collecting never has been my thing. I accumulate stuff, far too much stuff, but that’s not really collecting. A closet shelf heaped with old sweaters, some unworn for 20 years or more, is accumulating, not collecting. It’s probably also a statement in risible fashion sense, but that’s a bigger closet best left to clean another day.
I kept only one scrapbook as a kid, what was in its day a tidy collection of daily newspaper clippings chronicling the 1967 Red Sox season. Maybe I didn’t collect much, but I know I picked the right subject and season. I was 14 years old that summer and nothing changed New England’s sports landscape like the exploits of Yaz, Lonnie, Boomer, et al. I still have the tattered two-volume set to prove it, including the snapshots I clicked off with my pocket-sized Kodak Instamatic camera (with top-mounted flash cube) when the Cardinals came to Fenway for the World Series.
My prized scrapbook is in woeful shape. The clips remain in chronological order, beginning in early May and right through the pennant race, but as I flipped through the pages during the recent blizzard, the old clips of Will McDonough, Clif Keane, Larry Claflin, George Sullivan, and other newspaper writers of the day constantly fluttered out like snowflakes.
Nearly a half-century later, most of the tape that affixed the clips to the pages has gone brittle, lost its hold. It’s not nearly the tangled mess that is one of our kitchen drawers, but I did a miserable job of curating, and now it has become, to quote my late mother, “a pig’s foot in the mornin’.’’ I’m sure you get the idea, even if you’re not the son of a country girl.
Curious about scrapbooks, especially in an increasingly paperless age, I visited a Michael’s store, the big box retailer that specializes in all sorts of arts and crafts thingies. My scrapbook, actually a photo album with an ornate, gold-colored lace on the binder, was purchased at Woolworth’s.
My mouth still waters for the greasy french fries and hot dogs Woolworth’s served at its lunch counter, adjacent to where they sold the parakeets and turtles and knitting needles and garden rakes. Woolworth’s still exists, in the form, I suppose, of a dozen or more different stores that have fashioned full-blown businesses out of all of those cluttered Woolworth’s aisles. In the last 50 years, we’ve sacrificed one-stop shopping for the perpetual, time-consuming pursuit of selection. But, hey, we all know a parakeet just isn’t a parakeet anymore.
Scrapbooking remains big business, even in the digital age. Michael’s was chock-a-block full of scrapbooks of varying sizes. A store manager gave me a five-minute tour, leading me by countless counters of stickers, trinkets, adhesives, and all manner of specialty items geared toward “museum quality’’ collecting.
Had Woolworth’s stocked such splendid goods, let me tell you, my ’67 Sox scrapbook would be headed today to the Sports Museum on Causeway Street. But not this musty, dog-eared mess.
Dick Johnson, resident sage and curator of the Sports Museum, has a 55-gallon-drum-sized soft spot for scrapbooks. Originally a Worcester kid, he figures he does what he does today in part because his older brother decades ago gifted him his prized scrapbook of the New York/San Francisco Giants. Thus a curator was in vitro, and by the way, the ’67 Red Sox season brought him to birth.
“Ohhhh, good for you, those are great!’’ said Johnson, 59, when I telephoned him about my scrapbooks. “I turned 12 that November. It was the magic carpet ride for all of us. I was a fan before, but that basically forged my career . . . the ’67 team absolutely clinched the deal.’’
Among the hidden truths of a scrapbook, noted Johnson, is what it reveals about its maker. It not only tells the story at hand but also one about the hand who crafts it.
“They are wonderful,’’ said Johnson, noting the Sports Museum owns scrapbooks more than a century old. “There is personal quality to them and it’s not just about the subject that is being covered but about the person collecting the material and organizing it.’’
I don’t think my old scrapbook is all that self-revealing. In a few game accounts, I penned in the words, “We went.’’ Tickets were cheap, only $2 to sit in the bleachers, as I recall, and I made it to 32 games that season, most of them with my dad. I only know the exact number because I stenciled, “WE WENT TO 32 GAMES’’, on the inside front cover of Volume 2. Two of those were Games 1 and 7 of the World Series ($8 to sit in the grandstand, ticket stub in scrapbook).
The best of the games was the final day of the regular season when the Sox beat the Twins, and later in the day clinched the American League pennant. One of the Kodak snaps in my scrapbook shows a container of popcorn in the air and fans dashing onto the field. My dad and I were out there, too, celebrating amid the chaos. It pains me now that we didn’t get our picture taken together in the moment. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s what’s missing from the scrapbook that tells a story, too.
Johnson is convinced, regrettably so, that such scrapbooking will be lost to the digital age. With a blend of both fascination and regret, he refers to the Internet and the digital era as “Aladdin’s electronic cave,’’ where all facts and history can be accessed with a few taps of the keyboard.
Our memories no longer are routinely preserved by scissors and tape, stuck to paper pages covered and memorialized by embossed faux leather. Google the words “Red Sox . . . Impossible Dream . . . 1967’’ and the stories and pictures rain down like a monsoon from The Cloud.
We live in better times. No argument there. Precious few of us even think to reach for a paper copy of the newspaper and tear out the tiny fragments of sport or food or business or life that mean something to us in that very moment. What is old is new again, in a flash that makes a New York second seem an eternity.
We are digital people in a digital universe in which nothing yellows, turns brittle or musty. Nothing in the digital era tumbles from a page like a one-of-a-kind snowflake on a winter’s day. But when it does, its feel is the very fabric of our lives, a touch that reaches to the soul in a way even Aladdin never could have dreamed.