When I could no longer avoid the realization that retirement was more than just an event down the road, I, like a lot of others, began asking myself “then what”. I knew that I would try to stay disciplined about writing posts for Easin’ Along, but other than that, I had no idea what retirement activity was going to keep me busy.
I used to play golf, but I’m pretty lousy at it. I love to snow ski, but for someone who lives in Tennessee, that would occupy two weeks out of the year at best. I love to fish, but sold the boat when we downsized, and fishing from a river bank doesn’t really do it for me. I have signed up for a couple of courses at the University of Tennessee, and plan to do that several times a year, but those classes are somewhat sporadic.
Hobbies? Well, I like to read. I follow sports, primarily University of Tennessee sports, and I love football regardless of who plays. However, once the season is over, it’s over for me too. Nevertheless, reading and sports are not really hobbies.
So what else? I have an SUV (nicknamed Freddie) that I have a lot of fun with. Freddie is a Toyota FJ Cruiser that I baby like it is my child. I bought it a few years back and continue to accessorize. Freddie lives in my garage, and never gets rained on. I’m sure the neighbors laugh at me because I’m always washing, waxing, and polishing it, then sending it back into the garage. I belong to two Facebook groups of FJ Cruiser owners from all over the world and am fascinated with their adventures, like cruising the sand in Saudi Arabia or climbing a mountain peak in Utah. Freddie is more of a “mall crawler”, but we have a lot of fun nonetheless. You may remember that last week we made a trip to explore the area around Norris Dam in Andersonville, Tennessee.
I do have one activity that, at present, is more of a habit than a hobby. I am a collector. I’ll find a trinket or something interesting, and before you know it, I have ten more of the “interesting somethings”. A few years back, I got into paperweights. I still have several, but soon learned that those things take up a lot of space and learned to resist them. Next, I got into sew-on patches and had a bunch of them sewn on to my clothing, but the clothing wears out eventually, and the patches with them. I have a small collection of miniature cars. A few are “mini” Freddies, and I have a couple of miniature 1955 Chevys, my first car. I may stay with this collection, but again, space is an issue. The item that I have the most of is a collection of souvenir sewing thimbles. Yes…that’s right, thimbles.
The thimble thing began when I was on the staff of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and was helping to liquidate Fair merchandise after the event came to a close. One merchant set out a tub of souvenir thimbles and offered one to me for helping him carry them out to the sale. I took his offering and put it on a shelf at my home without much thought. Later in the year Helen and I took a trip to Disney World and when it came time to leave, we decided that we needed souvenirs. Helen bought a refrigerator magnet and I picked out a Mickey Mouse thimble. Now I had a collection. In the years since, I can’t travel to a new destination without scouring the tacky souvenir stands to find a new thimble for my collection. That collection now includes 176 thimbles. I just purchased another display case and will begin filling it up as we Ease Along on our upcoming trip.
A few months ago, while exploring options for future activities, I was reminded by my brother that I had a collection of pocketknives that was left to me by our father when he died, and that adding to the collection might be an activity worth considering. If it seems odd that I had to be reminded about the knives it is due to the fact that I keep them in a safe box and only retrieve them about once a year to oil them and keep them in mint condition. I never really had an interest in adding to the collection, probably because I’m not that good of a trader, and knife collecting is a developed skill requiring considerable knowledge, and the ability to drive a good bargain. Nevertheless, I have always treasured the collection, and honored to have them knowing how proud my father was of them. I realized however, that if I was going to take up the activity of knife collecting or do something with the knives I had, that I needed to get a working knowledge of what I had and a little bit of guidance on how to go about adding to the collection. It just so happened that there was a gun and knife show going on in our town that weekend. I went.
I had never been to a gun and knife show before, and what an experience it was. This show was being held in a large exposition center and it was packed with enthusiasts. That was readily apparent when I pulled Freddie into a huge parking lot and had to park at the very rear on the grass as there were no parking spaces available. I went to the ticket booth and paid my eight dollars for admission, then went through the battery of police officers who were inspecting the guns being brought in for trade or sale by the attendees. I was pretty impressed by the security. Once inside I was astounded by the hundreds of tables of guns, the hundreds of gun dealers, and the many hundreds of gun collectors. I won’t render an opinion on whether gun dealing is good or bad, right or wrong, all I can say is that the people in that exhibit hall seemed to be nothing more than a group of peaceful, law abiding Americans pursuing an interest that they find very pleasurable.
Unfortunately there were very few knife dealers at this show. I did talk to one dealer there who told me that the foremost authority on the knives in my collection was at a show in a town nearby. Knowing that I didn’t have time to drive to that event, I got his name from this dealer, and after spending a little more time looking at the displays, I left.
On Monday morning after the show I Googled the name of the knife expert to learn that he was indeed considered an expert on Case brand pocketknives which is the principle brand in my father’s collection. Furthermore, I learned that this gentleman lived in Charleston, South Carolina and I was going to visit Charleston that next weekend. I called him immediately to see if he would agree to meet with me. He said he would be delighted.
The gentleman’s name is Tony Foster and he couldn’t have been nicer on the phone. Yes, he said, he would be home the next Saturday morning and if I would call him the day before we could set a time. I thanked him profusely and agreed to do just that.
On Friday I called him as I was driving to Charleston and got his address, grateful that he had not forgotten about our previous conversation. We were to meet at around 9:30 the next morning. It’s not often that I get to meet someone who is considered an expert on anything, so to say that I was eagerly looking forward to meeting an expert on something as unique as Case pocketknives is a huge understatement. I arose early Saturday morning, kissed the grandchildren, picked up my knives, and whistled out the door.
I again called Tony on my way and he met me in the driveway of his beautiful home. I liked him immediately. He had a huge smile and greeted me with his warm and welcoming southern accent. He was wearing an open fleece jacket over a V-neck tee shirt and lounging pajama pants. On his feet he was wearing what looked like bedroom slippers. I guessed him to be in his early 80’s. Tony invited me into his very large man cave and I followed him there like a youthful puppy dog.
His man cave was dedicated to his passion which is the collection and preservation of Case knives and the history of the brand. The room was neat, well lit, and well organized. There were display cases on the walls and more cases lying on tables along them. He had file cases containing information about all things Case, as well as the tools necessary to pursue his passion such as magnifying glasses etc. He invited me to sit down and tell him about what I had brought for him to examine, which I did.
I opened the cases containing my knives and gave him a brief history of the collection that my father had accumulated beginning in the 1960’s. He then began to give me a brief history of the brand and the points of interest of each knife that determine the value and/or make them collectible. I sat in rapt attention. It was obvious that he was passionate about this pursuit and had spent many years acquiring the knowledge of the minute points that make this brand so desirable. I won’t take the time to detail those points here, mainly because it is more than one can absorb in just one visit, but suffice it to say that his knowledge was vast and impressive.
Tony went through my collection of 41 Case knives and gave me an approximate estimate of their worth. He said he couldn’t pinpoint an exact value without spending more time with them, but he felt pretty confident of his estimate. Let’s just say that I was happy.
Tony gave me a few more minutes to look around his man cave and take some pictures of his display cases. After some coaxing, he allowed me to take his picture although I’m sure that he preferred that I didn’t. I’m grateful that he did…again, one is not often in the presence of experts.
He shared with me a few stories about how he got into collecting, but it was primarily due to a general interest in knives from an early age. He had spent a career as an engineer in the paper industry in the Charleston area, but was now retired and used his time to travel to knife shows throughout the south.
I could have stayed there and talked with him for much longer, but hoping I would have a chance to return some day, I figured I had better not abuse his generous gift of time on a Saturday morning and excuse myself. He walked me out, and while I had only known him for a few hours, I really felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend.
Once I was back home, I was going through the collection and using some of the information Tony gave me to learn a little more about the knives in my possession, I called to ask him a couple of questions. He was a helpful as anyone could ask for. Some people just have a way about them.
Still uncertain if knife collecting will be an activity that drives me, I am certain about one thing. Pursuing the company of people who are passionate about anything worthwhile is a retirement activity that I hope becomes a large part of the journey I call Easin’ Along.