Around this time of year, I always find myself missing my baseball card collection. I didn't lose mine like so many other people did-you know, like when you go away to college and your mom throws away those useless cards as she's cleaning out your closet. No my loss was nothing like that. I lost mine in a house fire on April 25th of 1978. Forty years ago next week, my wife Shelia and I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to find our house engulfed in flames. As we were running out the door, Shelia grabbed our bible, and a quilt that my grandmother had given us as a wedding gift.
She also managed to grab our wedding pictures as she made her quick exit. I was lucky enough to get my pants on before the house began to cave in from the intense fire and heat. If only I had thought to look under my bed and get the large box that my baseball card collection was in.
I had several cards that at the time were worth $250-$500 each. I had every Mickey Mantle card that was produced from the late 1950's until his career ended in 1968. I had figured that my collection was worth at least $10,000. I was so proud of my card collection. I had them well organized and divided into teams so that it would be easy to find any card I was looking for. In a matter of minutes my wonderful baseball card collection was gone.
After the event was over and the rubble had cooled off enough to go through it, we managed to find one of Shelia's rings, my charred car keys, a few old coins that had been in a jar under the sink, and one single baseball card managed to survive. It was a Topps 1962 Hank Aaron card. It was burned just around the bottom edges and it is in a protective card frame in a cabinet in my home now.
We also found our marriage certificate, completely intact, with just a few charred places around the edges. It is in a frame now on my bedroom dresser and when I look back on our lives together, that wedding certificate represents the tough times that we've had in our soon to be forty-five years together. Our life together has been charred around the edges so to speak, but like that certificate it's still intact. That small piece of paper has been an inspiration to me for many, many years.
There were a few other things I wished I could have saved from that awful fire, including an old German shotgun that my great-uncle had brought back from World War I. But for the most part, it was all just stuff.
I recently went through some things that belonged to my children as I was cleaning out my basement and found some of my son's baseball card collection. I came upon a Derek Jeter rookie card that is currently selling for $700 on e-bay. That is the crown jewel of his collection, much like the Mickey Mantle cards were in mine. I certainly hope he is able to keep his collection safe. In life you never think something like the tragedy of a fire affecting you like our fire did. Losing that baseball card collection was tough. It hurt, but I wouldn't trade anything about my life that's happened since then. After all, it's just stuff.
Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org