I don’t know for sure how it all started, but over the years, my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg collected a number of old license plates that were both unique and average. My guess is that he found one that he really liked, and he saved it, putting it up on the wall of the garage. Before long, the number of plates grew, because there was always another unique license plate to add to the collection. After a while the license plate collection grew to include plates from the different states he had been in, and his son, Ron Schulenberg even brought him some from the countries he was in during Desert Storm…which were quite different from all the others.
These license plates started out gracing the walls of the garage, which is a fitting place for such a collection, but as time went on, there were enough of then to warrant adding the barn shop my father-in-law had, and finally the back fence to his display areas. In reality, while I found these interesting to look at from time to time, my father-in-law’s license plate was not something that occupied any kind of a special place in my mind. I suppose that if I was a guy, I might have felt differently about it. It is a guy type of collection, after all.
After someone passes away, and you find yourself sorting through all their things, you begin to really get a feel for what was important to them. Not just the major things they had placed a high degree of importance on, but the lesser things too. The things they just liked, because they thought those things were cool. That was how it was for me, when we started going through my father-in-law’s things. No, I can’t say that I wanted those old license plates, but they were interesting. They were a reminder of my father-in-law, and the things he liked.
After the funeral, we took some pictures, as often happens after funerals, simply because many people who come, don’t live here and you want their pictures, because you don’t see them often enough. Many of the people in the family wanted their picture taken by the back fence, showing that collection of license plates. The other day, as I was looking through some of the old pictures, I came across those that were taken that day. It made me think with interest about the array of license plates my father-in-law had collected, and in reality about the kind of man he was.
The things that were cherished to him were really the life moments. Things like his knife and watch, his tools, his woodworking supplies and chair making supplies, and yes, the license place collection, were things that had a special meaning to him. They were like the stories of his life. They were the accomplishments he had made, the places he had been, and the reminders of just how precious life was. While the license plates were not something I was interested in receiving, I am very glad that I have pictures of them to remember his passion for life.
As my father-in-law’s life was winding down, we spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t always the perfect moments of his life that we shared, because he was in the hospital off and on during that time. He hated going into the hospital…hated the equipment he had to be hooked up to, food they wanted him to eat, and the constant waiting to get up, because he had to have help, but he liked the nurses and aides, and that made it tolerable, I guess. Nevertheless, he hated to be there, because life just seemed to pass him by when he was in the hospital. Still, since I needed to be there to talk to the doctors, and since I worked nearby, I went up several times a day. I know it meant a lot to him.
When we would first go to the hospital emergency room, my father-in-law would always ask me to take care of his watch and pocket knife. They were so important to him. That almost seems strange, because he normally didn’t have to be anywhere at any certain time, and he very seldom ever used the pocket knife. Nevertheless, they were very important to him, and I was always entrusted with their care, and because it was so important to him, it became important to me. When he passed away, the watch and pocket knife were not claimed by any of his children, so once again, I have been entrusted with their care. They are a treasure to me, and each time I look at them, I can see his sweet face, a little worried about what this hospital visit was going to bring, and yet still so protective of those two prized possessions.
I don’t know if they were given to him, or if they were just something he liked and bought for himself, but in his last days, and probably even longer than that, I know that they meant a lot to him. The knife is an Old Timer Knife. Old Timer Knives were manufactured by the Imperial Schrade Corporation, who closed their doors July 30, 2004, after 100 years of business. They were something he looked on as being of great value. It might have been just a guy thing to have a pocket knife or something, because it does seem that a lot of guys have and keep good track of their pocket knives. I don’t know the story on his watch either, except to say that the only time he was without it was when he was in the hospital, in bed, or the shower. That says that it was something he treasured too. Neither of these were very expensive items. The watch may have come from Walmart, for all I know. It’s monetary value isn’t important to me. It’s real value is in what it meant to my father-in-law. Today would have been my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you very much.