Little Red Cooler

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Sometimes friends ask me to keep a look out for specific antique or vintage items as I’m scouring auctions or local estate sales. I keep a notebook of their china and crystal patterns in case they need a random piece to complete a set. Other times I just get lucky and snag something that I think they might want.

Last Friday, Pookie and I went to an estate sale at a very nice and meticulously maintained ranch-style house which had been preserved by its late owners as a sort of 1960s time capsule.

After scoring a perfect vintage silver plated tea service for myself from the dining room, we headed to the garage. Pookie was immediately drawn to the leather Samsonite briefcase in like-new condition which still had the original pens in the pocket from 50 years ago when it was new and expensive.

As Pookie ogled her briefcase, I spotted my great item of the day sitting under a table stacked with Christmas ornaments: a 1970s red Coleman metal cooler complete with bottle openers on the side handles. I could have sworn someone had told me about their desire for this exact cooler.

But who?

After we loaded the cooler in the car, I started texting the usual suspects. Cecelia denied knowledge of a cooler request but said that if it were plaid she would most definitely want it. Tristan was working on a house so I didn’t bother him. Pookie couldn’t remember either.

That’s about the time The Old Man called to check in from his office. I told him about my find and surmised, from his squeal of delight, that he was the requester. The person who wanted the cooler was my own husband.

It was the cooler of his youth. The one that his aunt and uncle packed with drinks and food for family road trips or took along while fishing. For him, a metal Coleman cooler brings back distinct and warm memories of a time when his Aunt Lucille would fill the cooler with enough sandwiches to keep the kids fed during stops at roadside picnic tables long before drive-through fast food became the norm for travelers.

On Saturday, after another long day of treasure hunting, we inaugurated the red cooler while “chairing” (see Chairing from July 31, 2014) with a bottle of champagne in our backyard. We made a toast to the couple who had valued their possessions and the people who wouldn’t throw old stuff away just because there were new things to buy.

And The Old Man is happy to report that the cooler still works…perfectly.

Pennants

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As the child of public schoolteachers, summers for me meant car trips. Not simple weekend getaways but months-long excursions that my mother meticulously planned with the AAA and road managed with her dog-eared Trip Tik.

Over the course of my childhood, we saw the country from coast to coast several times over; always taking time to stop at historical markers and national parks in addition to homages to the legendary horse racing tracks that my father had always dreamed of visiting. (In the 1960s and 70s children could still visit racetracks, but that is another blog post!)

These were the days of Stuckey’s, those blue-roofed wonders where in addition to refilling the gas tank and taking a restroom break, a child could always find a sticky pecan log, a key chain with your name imprinted and my favorite: felt pennants advertising the local area.

In the days before instant cameras, pennants were an easy and fast reminder of all of the places we had visited. Recently, I cleaned out the hall closet and came across my collection in an old Maas Brothers bag and still in good shape.

And did the memories come flying back! There was the 1965 Disneyland pennant that represented my highlight of our trip to Los Angeles in a black Volkswagen Beetle—complete with the specialty luggage that fit behind the back seat and in the front “trunk.”

From 1970 were my two beloved Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” pennants that took me back to the middle school summers we spent in Cincinnati so that my father could attend graduate school. I don’t know what he learned in his studies but I do know that I learned how to decipher a box score.

And among the assorted Florida pennants was the one from the Kennedy Space Center. In 1971, the seventh grade of Marshall Jr. High School spent a Saturday traveling on school buses to Cape Canaveral for a day-long field trip. This was the height of the space race we were all convinced that we would see a real astronaut or engineer that day; the Justin Biebers of our time. I’m sure I took lots of naturally 1977 filtered pictures on my Instamatic camera. But all it took to transport me back to that feeling of actually BEING in a special place at a special time was my pennant.

Not a bad thing to collect after all.

Old Man Monday: Three reasons why my old typewriter beats your laptop like it owes me money

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By The Old Man

I have a lingering fixation on old typewriters, and if I am any judge, this hardly qualifies as unique. Scope out any vintage store, hipster hangout or flea market and you are likely to find several cool old manual typewriters, often with price tags over $100.

This is a good thing.

Some of these machines become merely display pieces on someone’s book case. Some, tragically, are dismantled, their keys transformed into cufflinks or some other form of art. But the most fortunate machines continue to serve the noble purpose for which they were originally constructed: pounding words onto paper with decisive snaps.

I think more people need to rediscover the joys of writing on a typewriter, and here is why:

First, typing a note to someone is unique and private, especially in this age of cut and paste opinions and social media exposure. If you type someone a note or a letter and mail it to them, they know you did something specifically for them. You didn’t post if for an audience to see, and even if the ideas or words are not completely original, they passed directly from your fingertips through the keys of that old machine and onto the paper.

Second, I think typing is helpful to the writing process. Taking the electronic pulses of your brain and converting them into something tangible like ink on paper helps to solidify your thinking during the drafting period. Converting those brain pulses simply to some other group of electrons in a computer is too impermanent. You need to commit to your words and your ideas. The declarative striking of metal on paper reinforces that commitment. Take a pencil or pen to this draft and then re-type it into computer. I bet you will be happier with the results.

Third, old typewriters are iconic. Find a famous photograph of any writer from the mid-century or earlier: Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, and it will likely be of them and one of their favorite machines. They might be smoking a cigarette or sipping something brown from a glass, but they are also thinking about what’s on that page in front of them. And you can find a machine just like one that your favorite writer used. Of course, having a 1936 Royal doesn’t mean you will start writing like Dorothy Parker, but writing is tough, and you take inspiration where you find it.

Fifty years from now, nobody is going to be fondly typing on a 2014 Mac Air. But my 1940 Underwood will still be going strong, even if I am not.

Here is what to look for in an old typewriter:

1. All typewriters have things that mark their era. For example, pre-World War II machines often have glass-topped typewriter keys. Later ones will usually be plastic.

2. A lot of typewriter collectors have taken the time to create websites with historic information about the various typewriter brands. Some even post old owner’s manuals and serial numbers with manufacturing dates online.

3. If you find a machine you like but are worried about keys that seem sticky, look closely to see if it seems rusty or dusty. Dust you can clean out with compressed air or sometimes with a rag and some isopropyl alcohol (keep this away from plastic and rubber parts, however!). Rust is a much more difficult problem to fix.

4. Be conservative about using oil – it attracts and holds dust, which can make sticking parts eventually stick worse.

5. There are lots of sources online for new and restored ribbons, including advice on how to re-ink your own ribbons.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.