didn’t know you needed one, did you?
see, if i hadn’t told you…you may have lived your entire life not knowing about my collection of paper placemats. yes, it’s true, circa 1963-1969 or so, a wall of my bedroom was devoted to placements that were collected not only by me, but also by relatives & friends who went on trips around the country.
they are mostly regional in representation; restaurants, motel chains (howard johnson’s was a big deal when it opened a motel on the highway just outside of rapid city in 196_); they come from montana, north & south dakota, saskatchewan (oh, that’s the time i nearly got left in canada because i proudly declared my birth city, “wurzburg, germany,” & of course, canada was happy to see the backside of my 9 year-old being, but the good ole u.s. of a. was not too pleased to see the front side, since i was still a green-card carrying foreign national, but alas & alack without my papers–not my fault, obvsly, what did i know from crossing borders, right? my mother, in hushed confidential tones with the border guard seemed to smooth things over [did she slip him a sawbuck?] & we tootled on through,) wyoming, nebraska, colorado, utah, idaho, washington, oregon–well, you get the idea.
you wouldn’t have known this, but i have about 50 of these pieces of paper (this is what graphic designers did in the ’60s,) and the majority of them are little tidbits of history (with a caucasion bias, mais oui); how we dominated the native americans (or how they slaughtered our infantry, men, women & children,) but mostly they try to show some pride of place and really, you can’t fault them for trying.
the prairie states are rather unforgiving geographically and meteorologically; they are open space incarnate & it takes a certain kind of person to love it (i do,) and a certain kind of person to make their life there (we did.)
i thumb-tacked each one of my treasures up on one wall of my bedroom. they were side-by-side, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. i did not group them according to design or state, only as they came into my possession did they then find a life on my wall.
you should know that the rest of the walls of my bedroom (its size: possibly no more than 9′ x 10′) were hung with national geographic maps, even their sky map was on the ceiling, so when i laid on my twin bed against the west wall (until, of course, i discovered ‘angles’ & then it jutted out into the room; discovering angles most likely occurred about the same time as puberty, i’m sure you understand.)
this then represents my first collection. i would not have it had my mother not saved it in a hard cardboard folder & one day before she died, sent me home with a box filled with my childhood: books & clothes, & baby shoes, & report cards, newspaper clippings, you know, the things that all mothers tuck away (i’ll stop now a moment while i get a kleenex to blow my nose & wipe the tear from my eye — truly.)
but back to collecting: i don’t know why i collect, but i do know that it gives me some comfort & some satisfaction & some sense of belonging. i’ve always said that collectors are driven by a need to control the chaos of the world around them & owning & cherishing a group of things is an excellent way to impose a sense of order on a world that is, understandably impossible to understand.
i can say that i don’t get much of a frisson of emotion from these placemats now. i admire some of the design elements & the marketing ideas & how businesses reached out to their clientele through history and comedy and cuteness/sweetness, but no emotion is really attached to them any longer.
however, you don’t see me getting rid of them, do you?
because i can’t for the life of me imagine imposing a dollar value on them or likewise consigning them to the trash heap. so they’re safely tucked upon a shelf in my closet & today, for the first time in maybe 30 years, i took them down & looked at each & every one of them & tried to call up who, what, when, where & how.
sometimes i was successful, other times it was a big “huh?” but even when i knew where they came from & who may have brought them back to me from a trip, there was still little or no emotion attached to them.