An Accidental Collection

by Sarah Nixon

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The only real collection I was ever exposed to while I was growing up was my uncle's eagle collection. He was the only adult I knew who had a shelf of dozens of the same thing, over and over, in different iterations. Gradually, it expanded to encompass two shelves. I always knew what to get him for Christmas - another eagle figurine, wings stretched statically out over its small stand, its feathers rock hard. Or an eagle stuffed animal, which seemed cartoonish next to the tiny majestic statues, but in retrospect was closer to what he actually liked anyway. He gave up collecting eventually, tired of receiving fourteen eagles for every Christmas and birthday, but the collection is still sitting in his house, taking up the same two shelves, dusty.

 

I dabbled in collecting. It seemed like an interesting thing to do. If I had one of something that I liked, my logic went, wouldn't I like having a bunch of that thing even more? I gathered six rocks, pebbles from our yard. I had a plastic Ziploc bag of broken seashell fragments, some of them cool colors, most of them a bland shade of bone. I had three foreign coins that my dad had dug up on my request: one Canadian, one Mexican, and one from somewhere in Europe, or so he told me (Dad had the money and the knowledge, and I didn't question it, but years later, I'm well aware that my parents have never actually been to Europe). I assembled a team of twelve to fifteen Beanie Babies at the height of the craze, but that was never enough to rank me among the most minor of Beanie Baby fanatics. That was the one about which my mom was the most hopeful. She bought into the idea that Beanie Babies were going to be worth an enviable amount of money someday. Fifteen years later, we haven't reached that someday, but she keeps them in storage even now, lying in wait for that fantasy sum.

 

The collection that almost panned out was the state quarter collection. My sister and I each received a board with holes for each of the state quarters, and my parents supported our new hobby by bringing home all the quarters they came across, even if we already had them. It seemed like a great collection; after all, it was a collection with a goal, an endpoint. The board, however, turned out to be my downfall. Unlike my sister's, it had two spaces for every state quarter, one from each of the mints. My mom showed me where to look for the tiny D or P stamped behind Washington's neck, but the P-stamped quarters were rare: something to do with the location of the mints. I struggled through for years, far longer than I had tried to maintain any of my other collections; in the end, though, the sight of all those empty holes on the board was too disheartening. Collecting, it turned out, had never been my thing.

 

I can pinpoint the exact moment that the seed for my accidental collection was planted, well into my teenage years. I was sitting on the couch at my house, watching a movie with my parents. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. I don't remember anything of the plot. All I remember is one scene in which a tiny sock monkey, hanging on a wall of thousands of toys, reaches out to a passing human character, silently begging for a hug. I yelped as the character passed by and the tiny sock monkey hung its head, dejected. My parents laughed, but I remember that this was the saddest moment in the largely forgettable movie by far. The sadness of it followed me around for days, and I YouTubed the clip a couple of times, trying to figure out why I was so moved.

 

A couple of years later, my mom gave me a Christmas present. Nestled among the others, it didn't draw my attention immediately, but I was confused when I opened it and found a sock monkey, mostly made of limbs. "It's cute," I told my mom.

 

"It's like the one you liked from the movie," she said. I agreed with her, touched that she had remembered something like that.

 

There was another one three months later for my birthday, smaller and more closely resembling the tiny toy I had first fallen in love with. My boyfriend found one for me at the bookstore and brought it to me for no particular reason. They have since created small piles at almost every gift-giving occasion. I have one with my sister's college's logo emblazoned on the chest that shoots across the room like a slingshot when its legs are pulled back from its arms. There is another that is small and made of hard plastic, whose body bends in every direction and then stays there until further encouragement. There is a green one with the image of gray bandages wrapped around its chest; my mother found this one at Barnes and Noble in a similar collection of costumed monkeys and brought it home as a Halloween gift, but once it was there she began to worry that it didn't look as much like a mummy when it was out of the company of its fellows. I assured her that I understood what it was when she accompanied it with a declaration of "Happy Halloween!" This past Christmas, I received a veritable hill of them from my parents, my sister, and even my uncle, who must have learned about it from my mother. I wonder if he thought about his own reasoning for discontinuing the eagle collection as he was wrapping up the monkey to put under the tree.

 

I didn't mean to start this collection. I've strayed away from keeping a lot of the same thing, besides lipsticks and books, both of which serve a practical purpose. I tend not to keep a lot of stuff. My mom found this out when they bought a new house and I had to sort everything into big Keep or Throw Out piles. She was dismayed when she found gifts from her, gifts from my grandmother, and baubles with special meaning in the latter pile. "You don't want to keep this? But this was from your First Communion!" she said, frowning at the cover of a small prayer book.

 

"Yeah, but I don't use it," I pointed out. This was, to me, a good enough reason to give it to someone else.

 

So I was at first bewildered by the growing pile of sock monkeys. They don't have any use or particular sentiment attached to them. They only serve to multiply. But I'm kind of fond of them, even if I didn't mean for them to congregate around me. This was kind of what I had intended when I had gathered those six pebbles in the backyard, or that plastic bag full of seashell pieces. I just wanted to amass something that I liked having around. And now I can look over to the top shelf of my bookcase and view the growing pile of monkeys, lying in each other's laps, draped one on top of the other, waiting for more of their friends to join the party.

 

 

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