Don’t get nervous! Although I am a pastor, it’s not the Sunday offering that the title refers to, but the pitfalls of being a collector. Although my most cherished collection is my seashells, I have collected one other thing in recent years; turtles. Not live turtles but carved, ceramic, glass, resin, steel, all kinds of turtles. It started with a simple purchase of a small carved turtle that I named “Spots”. He was the inspiration for a short story that I wrote over the course of a few lunch periods. I kept him on my desk as I wrote, and as I wrote Spots became more and more real to me. And, because of the story, I had lots of opportunities to talk about him.
You know what happens when friends, relatives and others find out that you have something “collectible”? Turtles started showing up. The variety of turtles that I mentioned above doesn’t even begin to describe it. One good friend gave me a turtle lamp for Christmas, the “shell” (carapace) was amber glass and the body was bronze colored metal. It had a “night-light bulb”. Another friend gifted me with a large colorful, fleece turtle pillow, about two feet by three feet.
Turtles would occasionally show up on the pulpit or even in the offering plate. I had turtle jewelry, a turtle backscratcher everything but turtle clothes! ( This is not a request for turtle tee shirts!) Two rules I set for my family and friends were, no live turtles and no artifacts or items that were made from real turtle shells. When my seashell collection was on a respite, I lined the windowsills of my office with my turtles.
Just to be clear, one of those windows was a picture window with two smaller windows on either side, plus a regular sized window on the other wall. So I am talking significant window sill space. Once, a couple came for premarital counseling and the groom said, “look honey, an infestation.” He wasn’t far from the truth. Another friend also gave me a turtle lamp, an exact duplicate to the one I had but what could I say? Thank you, but no thanks? Although Spots was the first turtle in my heart, my second favorite turtles are Sea Turtles so predictably a few sea turtles made their way into my collection.
One day, a parishioner very thoughtfully brought me a “new to me” turtle lamp. They were cleaning out a closet at school and she thought about me when she saw it. This one had a pretty blue glass shell, but other than that was just like the other two turtle lamps. It was so thoughtful, but I knew the time had come to do something about my growing collection of turtles. I was running out of display space and we were getting ready to move. The ladies’ group at church was preparing for their annual rummage sale, so I gathered some donations and discretely placed one of the turtle lamps in the box. Surely someone from the community would buy it, or maybe it would even go home in a box lot kind of situation. Nope, one of my other parishioners, who knew I collected turtles saw it, and bought it for me!
Over the years I have given a way a few turtles but still had a pretty significant collection. In my quest to declutter and downsize, I put my turtles out in our yard sale last spring and was thrilled when a young couple who love turtles bought them all. They listened very patiently as I told them where each of the turtles had come from (one from Mexico, one from Corning Glass, one was the kind of turtle you hang over the edge of a planter or flowerpot.) Some of them were just pretty, but I do not have the space to display them. All my shelf space is needed for books that I haven’t found the courage to let go. So, the yard sale finished, I came in the house, sat at my desk, moved a few papers and low and behold, there was my blue, bobble-head turtle. I think he was hiding!
Now, this presented a dilemma. I had just enough turtles left to warrant starting a new collection, or, not. Of course it is no question that I am keeping Spots. And my husband made the leather turtle with the googly eyes for me. Can’t give him away either. That does beg a question though, when does a collection become a (mindless) accumulation? Or just as pressing, at what point in your life do you begin to let go of copious possessions so someone else does not have to do it after you are gone? Or, how much stuff do you have to have before you decide to declutter?
Sister Mary Jose Hobday (1929-2009) was a Roman Catholic sister and an elder in a Seneca tribe. According to her obituary she traveled about 75,000 miles each year, giving talks, leading retreats and seminars. She visited my seminary one year and while she imparted a lot of spiritual wisdom to us, it was the tangible, practical simplicity of her life that struck me.
At the stage in her life when she came to Rochester, she was not living in a convent but in a small home on a reservation. She kept her possessions to a minimum. She told us that she owned 3 skirts and 5 blouses, and that was her wardrobe. It was interchangeable to be sure, and easy to pack for all her travels. In addition, she said that while she always kept a few mementos in her home, anyone who gave her a gift understood that she would keep it for a while, but would eventually pass it on to someone else. That might be one of the most challenging parts of ending collections. When you know someone collects something, it takes the guess work out of gift giving. But when someone gives you a gift and you pass that gift on, what happens if they visit and don’t see it prominently displayed? I know this isn’t an issue for everyone, but it is for some people. Some of you are cringing right now.
When I was a child I had a fairly large collection of international dolls, most of which were not intended to be played with. I had two very large dolls with “big hair” full skirt dresses that could be spread out like a fan. Every time dad came home from a trip he would bring gifts for each of us and I watched with anticipation as he opened his suitcase or other package to see what he would give me. But at the time that one outgrows such things, or maybe later than usual, I gave all of my dolls away to a younger girl whose family frequented the Union Villa: Barbie dolls, the 18 inch tall teenage dolls that my mom had made clothes for, and all the dolls from India, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other ports that dad had brought to me. It was the right decision, but there have been many times over the years I wish I still had them. As with my turtle collection though, a few things fell through the cracks. I have one dancing lady doll, from Turkey I think and two leather camels and those three simple gifts from my dad, someone else will have to deal with, because you have got to draw the line somewhere.