The death of one's parents prompts some people to survey their worldly goods and purge what's no longer relevant, to simplify one's material holdings. My father-in-law left us two years ago, at age 97. My husband led his siblings in the division of the parental furniture and the disposition of his father's ashes. He also began weeding our bookshelves and donating many long-unread volumes to the local library book sale.
And then he turned to his baseball card collection.
My husband is an avid baseball fan. Since he was very young, he loved to throw the ball, catch the ball, take batting practice. He played ball in Little League, pickup games, adult leagues. In his 20s, he played right field on a Church of the Latter-day Saints team for a season, one of the few non-church members. He was a catcher on a local town team in his 30s. In his 40s and 50s, he regularly played a Sunday pickup game with guys I never met but heard about — Pascal, Roger, Joe, Andrew, Raf. He coached our sons. He coached other people's sons. He went to spring training games of the Rockies and the White Sox. He made three pilgrimages to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
And for several years, he collected baseball cards. Not the kind kids keep in shoe boxes and trade with their friends or those well-worn baseball cards from his growing up years in Rhode Island. No, these cards he acquired as an adult, purchasing them from eBay or from card shops he frequented.
Each card looked as though it had been untouched by human hands since it left the printing facility. The holy cards of America's pastime arrived in our mailbox one at a time, weeks or months apart, from Kansas, from Minnesota, California. They came in yellow padded envelopes lined with bubble wrap. Or packaged in recycled white mailing envelopes, the cards padded with newspaper and swaddled in Saran Wrap. Tom would carefully open the shipment, inspect it and slip the card into the plastic sheet of nine pockets. Then, he would admire it, savoring the page's contents.
After three years, his collection was complete — he had accumulated and curated more than 400 Topps 1957 cards. I often asked him if he was spending our life savings on his project. He assured me he was not.
By then, the kids were grown and out of the house. Neither son had any interest in their father's baseball card collection. It sat on a shelf at the top of the closet full of suits, ties, dress shirts and sport coats. From time to time, Tom took the binder down and flipped through it, musing about the superstars — Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays — and some of the lesser known players he had loved as a boy. There was a Brooks Robinson rookie card with a photo that looked as though he were still in high school. There was a Cardinals pitcher known as David "Vinegar Bend" Mizell. There were guys I'd never heard of. I bet you haven't, either.
But mostly, the binder was stashed away, hidden from view.
And then it was up for sale.
I don't know what complicated calculations went into Tom's decision. Maybe the collection had served its purpose, or maybe the idea of it one day going unclaimed was too much to bear. Or maybe it was simply time.
My husband researched potential buyers the same way he found the cards — methodically and carefully. The collection was first shipped to an outfit in Ohio, but protracted negotiations ended in a stalemate, and the lowballing dealer had to send them back. More internet research turned up a newer outfit in Michigan, and again, the collection was shipped to the Midwest. This time, a mutually acceptable price was reached within 72 hours. With 21st century speed, the money appeared in my husband's PayPal account.
I asked Tom what he planned to do with his bounty. I suspected he might want to tour some of the major league ballparks he'd never visited — St Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh.
His answer surprised me.
"We're going to Paris," he said. "In the spring."
April in Paris, I thought, resisting the urge to jump up and down and pump my fists.
Lynne Spigelmire Viti is the author of two poetry collections, "Baltimore Girls" (2017) and "The Glamorganshire Bible" (2018).