Sunday, December 12, 2010

A half-century old collecting memory

An "Odds and Ends" item on the sports page a couple of week ago shot me back more than 50 years ago as it brought into focus a childhood card-collectring memory.

The article was a brief obituary for former Green Bay Packers receiver (and sometimes running back) Lew Carpenter, who had been one of Vince Lombardi's first acquisitions upon taking over as Packers coach in 1959.

A 1959 Topps Lew Carpenter card was one of the first vintage football cards I reaquired when I got back into card collecting in the late 1970s. I probably paid 50 cents for the card at one of the area card shows; or maybe it was a buck, since it was a Packers card being bought in Wisconsin.

My purchase of the card back then, and retention ever since, wasn't based on any special interest in Carpenter as a player, since I don't recall having even seen him play on TV.

Rather, my interest in the card stemmed from the recollection of the first time I saw it. Some bubblegum cards have that effect on me. A look at them today can send me back in time to a vivid childhood memory.

In the case of Lew Carpenter, I was transported back to an early autumn day in 1959. I was walking home after school, but I hadn't gone directly home. I had made a lengthy detour to get to Zwicker's, one of the corner grocery stores that were uniquitous in the days before "supermarkets."

Someone at school had probably brought in some of the new year's football cards that day, and I had to get some for myself, even if it meant trekking to an out of the way neighborhood to spend my nickel. I guess I didn't want to take the chance of having to check all of the stores closer to home in hopes of finding the new cards.

My memory is that the first time I laid eyes on the 1959 Lew Carpenter card I was walking in front of Jim Hoey's house, about a block from the store, when the familiar Packers logo caught my eye. I suppose that first block of the walk home had been traversed as I turned the brightly colored wax pack over and over, admiring the new design.

I don't remember who else might have been in that first football card pack of 1959, but I'll never forget Lew Carpenter's card that made the extra-long walk home worthwhile.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here's the rest of the story. That detour to Zwicker's store added a full mile to my usual half-mile walk home . . . and I was eight years old.

In this day of Amber alerts, helicopter parents and a cell phone in every backpack, some may find it nearly incredible that a third-grader was allowed to walk home alone from school enjoying the simple pleasure of a piece of bubblegum and a handful of shiny new football cards. I survived, and so did my love of bubblegum cards,

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