I didn’t stop visiting the Tippecanoe bottle. Although I had “found” something “buried” just like it, it was ..not.. that bottle. So I visited it just as much. But now the travel to it from the school always included a memorial visit to the hole that the “crock” “was in”. I couldn’t go by it without “stopping”. There it was; a hole in the side of the stream bank. More and more leaves seemed to find their way into the hole, even after I cleaned them out. The impression of the crock at the bottom had “disappeared”. I didn’t care. It was a special spot. Then:
GONE! One day the bottle at the store was GONE! Someone bought it? There was no impression of it left on the counter? YES THERE WAS! A little open space had a faint dust ring where... something with a round base had stood for a... long time. “WHO?” I asked, a feisty demand that was out of character but did not phase the owner for he was convinced I “wanted” that bottle. He seemed a little surly about his “It sold to a man and his wife. Never seen ‘em before”.
“Oh”. That was it. It was over. WHY HADN’T I bought it! I’ll never see it again! Every dealer-collector knows these frantic mental lines.
I did see it again.
I had joined, as a result of my own discovery, a local collector association for those who collect old bottles. It was an adult group that met once a month far away from my home so that I had to “force” my mother to drive me there and then... return to pick me up “later”. I was not a star member. I was, as a youth senses, in over my head.
It was not that I couldn’t hold my own as a discoverer of rare old bottles. It was that I was a youth amongst adults and these adults although acting like children when discovering old bottles were none the less ADULTS so to a youth the chasm of authority and power remained theirs. These adults were... serious. In hindsight a few were a touch past the word serious and toward the childhood meaning of the word “crazy”. But I did, TOO, find old bottles so had no problem hanging around the edges of the association for THAT ACTION was the ticket to admission (after one paid “dues”). The greatest attraction of the association meetings to me was the opportunity, each month, to display for sale, each to their own spot on tables “along the side”, items one had found that one wished to “swap” for PREFERABLY although never stated “cash”. All one had to do was attend and “put out” one’s goods and, well, one could come home with a full wallet and an empty cardboard box. This feature of the “association” I became an expert at, endeavoring to fully realize the potential of my “swap” “spot”. I would find “stuff” each month before the meeting. I would cautiously decide “what to bring”. I would displayed the priced treasures and “dicker” one on one with, again in hindsight, some of the hardest adult crow-bait collectors I’ve… ever, ever …who were in fact willing to spend the three whole hours of the meeting beating me down five cents and other ridiculous wastes of human life energy upon “something” they “want”. Although it is fine now to observe the lunacy of this intercourse, it did serve me “purpose” and VERY WELL for it was the first and foremost “training” I had selling “JUNK” to complete strangers who FREELY USED ANY TACTIC they “could” to have their way with me. What a school: It blew those junior high dirty magazine hallway deals out the side door of my life for “this was real”.
Too real, probably. We all know the power of human passion… and having that unlocked in an adult who “sees something they want” that “some kid found”… particularly if they (the adult) is off the record from their “real” life for the evening: It can be and WAS “wild”. “LET’ER RIP” “dealing” was “OK” at the “MEETING” so I quickly learned right there on that street how to ...fight on the street of antiquarian commerce. Mumbling, muttering, marble mouth, ear scratching “CHEAP” “coming around” here introduced me to what I still, forty years later, endure DAILY. HUMAN CHARACTER from “ALL WALKS” who, unleashed into the world of their “hobby” may drop with death defying clarity all decorum of their “day to day” and “whack the sand” out of “you” in an effort to “get something” “cheap” for their “collection”. To review in my mind as I write the verbal vignettes that I listened to and ...believed ....from these fine people... is a lesson well learned young that has served me very well and I’m here today fully able to… dish it back TOO!
The twist of this setting to “find” the Tippecanoe bottle manifested promptly at the next meeting after the bottle had been “sold”. I attended as usual. I displayed my goods for “swap” as usual. I circulated amongst the other “swap spots” as usual, carefully scrutinizing the always priced so there “weren’t a nickel left in it” offerings of the other “members”. NO PROBLEM.
No problem until I “saw” a Tippecanoe bottle nestled amongst some other “finds” within the “swap space” of a short, stubby and both Humpty-round regularly attending, “got a great collection” couple whom I’d had a very small smattering of interaction with. I promptly reached for the bottle. It was sparklingly clean BUT it had a devastating inclusion to my knowing eye. At it’s top, wedged just as I KNEW it to be, was the three-fourths piece of original cork that THE BOTTLE the FAT DRUNK “found” “HAD”. Could not be ANY OTHER BOTTLE, no way. I held it. It was perfectly sticker priced “$50.-”. “THAT’S THE BOTTLE!” screamed my mind. “There’s a good one!” came a male voice behind my right ear.
I turned to be face to face with a man (he was not that tall) dressed in dark blue crispy clean work clothes and “sporting” hair such as one knows instantly he (this being 1967) “hated hippies” which I was trying as hard as a junior high kid can to “be”. He already had me in his sights for an “unloading on” for I HAD sold him “something” “once” and that was now a notched gun in his mind opening the door for the dreaded “collector revenge”. This revenge is a sort of “all bets are off in commerce” until the tab is either “square” or HE had “advantage” on the notched gun in his head. Fortunately I’d already been on the street enough to not only know about “collector revenge” but to be able to SEE IT COMING. His identically proportioned “wife” barreled right in behind him.
“JUST FOUND THAT!”
“BEST! PERFECT after we CLEANED IT UP!” were the first three one sentence paragraphs expressed upon me by the man before I could set the bottle back in its spot. I said nothing and had no chance to say anything.
“THAT’S A GOOD BUY!” came two more complete paragraphs. The wife smiled as my eyes passed from the man’s flint blue eyes to her equally sharp blues. My mouth was forming the word “ah” and my mind was saying “THE BOTTLE” but I couldn’t extend that to my mouth.
“WE FOUND THAT. A GREAT ONE!”
“BEST THING WE EVER FOUND!”
“PROBABLY SHOULDN’T SELL IT!”
“NEVER GONNA FIND IT AGAIN!”
The one sentence paragraphs didn’t stop. My mind could pass nothing to my mouth. It was screaming to say that THIS was THE BOTTLE in the little store downtown. The store downtown where the fat drunk man sleeps next to the building in the shade. The store where that man had brought THIS bottle that HE FOUND in the lot behind the buildings on the path that I walk on all the time. The store where that bottle sat on the counter still covered with dirt and retaining this exact piece of cork in exactly that position for a year with a twenty-five dollar fading and dust covered price sticker on it even though I handled it EVERY TIME I was “downtown” no matter what. That the hole where the fat drunk man found the bottle on the path in the lot was still exactly there and I can show you it. That I know all about this bottle and have wanted to buy it for twenty-five dollars for a whole year but never did and never ever thought anyone would ever buy it “for that” and SOMEONE DID and that someone is YOU.
“I CAN’T SELL IT FOR LESS!”
“Can’t” was a strange word for something one found for FREE. My mind shifted to glided. It WAS the same bottle. I clashed eyes with the man’s eyes, then diverted to his swap spot. My hand touched the top of the bottle. It WAS the same bottle. “He’s paid for it. HE PAID the twenty-five” my mind announced between my ears.
“AIN’T GONNA GET A BETTER ONE!” fired into the back of my head.
Get? But I wanted to find. I mean. I KNOW who FOUND this. I know.
I knew but I did not say. I didn’t. I went back to my swap spot. Later, I slinked back to handle the bottle again. The man was across the room and I knew he saw me. But he adjusted his tactics to presume I “wanted that” but he should “lay off” and let me “come to him”. It was definitely the same bottle. That was it.
I told my mother about it on the way home. She didn’t remember the bottle, the incident of discovery and only acknowledge “how lucky” I “was” when I paralleled that find to the blue stoneware discovery and that the stoneware is “a wonderful piece”. I gave up.
I kept going to the store, always on the path through the vacant lot. The man in the store never “had” any bottles. He always had other things though and I perpetually “bought” “stuff”. The fat drunk was usually around, sort of, but he never found anymore bottles either. The whole incident faded into the past except that the couple who had bought the bottle kept bringing it to their “swap spot”. I’d like to think they did this because they thought I was going to buy it for I very consciously handled it every time no matter what but I do realize that the reason they were bringing it was because they “had paid for it” so “want to get out of it”. IF they had actually “found it”, I am sure they would have “kept it”. BUT the twenty-five dollars had “hurt” and they had bought it purely as speculation. Well... not pure speculation for it was obvious that they’d “jumped” at the “opportunity” when they first “discovered” “it” in the store, downtown. This last was finally affirmed.
One day I bounced into the store after school and there, MUCH to my surprise was “someone” at the counter and it was THE couple. THEY were THERE. I recognized them, they recognized me. We both were equally not delighted to see the other there. This refined our conversation. “FINALLY FOUND IT!” the man said to me indicating I had found a secret source of theirs? The owner of the store who was still stumbling with the “these people know each other?” clause meant my eyes with a perplexity indicating that he knew that I came here a lot more then these “who ARE they?” “did”. That was enough to keep my mouth shut and after a bottle talk swap sentence or two I “hid” in the back of the store until they “left”. I listened to every word. The words were worth listening to. The couple re-stated for the store owner that, in so many words, they were the greatest bottle buyers he was ever going to meet and if he “ever found anything again” to “call ‘em” and on and on and then... left. GOOD-BYE.
The store owner asked me “did” I “know them”. By some luck of articulation I responded by saying “those are the people who bought that bottle” this last word slammed by pointing to the then full with something else spot on the counter where the gem had rested “for ever”. Yes he said. “I saw them with it” I said.
“They bought it; paid for it.” he said in an actually charitable tone indicating that he knew I’d coveted it and, perhaps, had sort of wished I “gotten it”. I sort of wished I had too, then. But now, I KNOW I did “get that” bottle. I got a lot out of that bottle.