News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 27, 2010

The Off Season: The passion of having a passion is a great thing

By Mike Lunsford
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It just occurred to me that I am fortunate to have a passion — a drive to do something that takes me away from the clutches of my job, of home repairs, of the mundane and the ho-hum. I say that because I know people who don’t have that something, that hobby, that interest that gets them out of bed or off the couch or away from their desks, and I feel sorry for them. I really do.

Most of my friends have passions, and I’m fortunate that I found a mate who has them, too. I think the world is just a little more exciting when I encounter someone — and I mean the occasional stranger, too — who is passionate about something he or she does or saves or collects or studies out of an interest or a need to know.

I clip and keep old proverbs and quotes and maxims under the glass that tops my desk. One of those sayings is by Will Rogers, and it makes sense to me. He said that there are only two ways that a person can get smarter: by reading good books and by associating with smart people.  He makes a good point, but I’d like to add a bit to what he said. I’d suggest you need to spend time with people who have a passion, a fire.

Not too long ago, I was waiting on a receipt at a local mini-mart (boy, do I long for the days when they were called gas stations, and I didn’t have to pay for compressed air). The door opened behind me, and a man walked through it. He stopped and held the door, not for an aged lady or an older gent with a cane, but for a boy of about 14 who was apparently his son. The boy was consumed at the time with a hand-held video game and his fingers were poking at it as if he were trying to desperately defuse a bomb. He jabbed at the thing until — because he was clomping along with his head down — he walked blindly into a metal bread rack.

Loaves and buns flew, the rack teetered on disaster, and the kid had to have at least gotten a skinned knee or barked shin out of the meeting, but Dad, instead of reminding Junior to walk upright with eyes open, just shook his head and extended his palms to offer the customers (and the sore cashier who had to pick up the mess) a “What’s-a-guy-going-to-do-with-a-kid-like-that?” kind of look. I can just see that boy in a year or two, texting while he’s driving his dad’s Buick.

I would suggest that the boy in question needed a meaningful interest rather than one that requires a full-time assistant to keep him from walking into a whirling airplane propeller. There’s no question that he had a passion, but I would question whether his was going to make him any smarter.

My wife helps people; it’s a passion with her. The things that she can do for other people, particularly for her family, makes her happy, and tired, all at the same time. In recent years, she has gotten our entire family involved in putting Christmas gift boxes together for children through the Samaritan’s Purse program. I can’t tell you how many hours she spends shopping for gifts, carefully arranging the boxes for maximum loads (my son’s shoe boxes are best since they are the size of semi-tractor trailers), writing notes to the children who’ll open them, and wrapping them in colorful paper. Often, long after I am snoozing in bed, she’ll be found in the middle of our living room floor, surrounded by mounds of coloring books and toothpaste, Matchbox cars and comb sets, constructing a gift box for a child she’ll never know. I think hers is a good passion, one that contributes.

I wrote a column years ago about a fellow named Mike Hoevet. Mike’s passion was collecting baseball memorabilia. Whether it was a moth-eaten pennant or cracked ball glove or scruffy garage sale bat, Mike was interested in taking a look. He was passionate about the history of baseball, and he felt that everything he took in needed a home with him rather than in a dumpster. He would get very, very excited just talking about his latest acquisition. 

Over the years, I’ve met plenty of people who had passions, for the theater, for fishing, for horses, for cooking. Talk about those things and you’ll see their eyes light up. My buddy, Joe, collects and uses hammers; he’s passionate about working in his shop, but what he really likes to do is strap on his tool belt and use a hammer and nails to build things. He loves it. Joe’s brother-in-law, Dennis Weber, makes the most beautiful wooden toys and boxes I have ever seen. He spends almost every free moment in his shop at home; I have a beautiful desk and a letter tray and a neat oak, toy bi-plane to prove it. My friend, Bill Wolfe, has had a passion for clay since he discovered it on the banks of Raccoon Creek near Coxville years ago; we should all be glad he’s never lost his enthusiasm for it.

My father-in-law, Gib, gone now for two years, collected and repaired clocks of any kind. He picked many of them out of junk piles and bargain boxes, but he never bought one that I knew of for its looks. He was a tinkerer, a term that originated in the 16th century and meant a mender of pots and pans. He loved to sit in the dim light of an old lamp and work on those clocks — on radios, too — not because he sold them on eBay or in second-hand shops, but because he was interested in how they worked, and he reveled in the fact that he could take something that was broken and literally make it tick again.

My brother makes knives, using the antlers I’ve picked up in the woods for their polished handles. Lathes and wood and good steel are passions with him. My friend, Julia, collects everything Mickey Mouse. Another friend, Malcolm, who lives in Danville, Ind., now, had to give up most of his collection of antique glass juicers when he moved out his huge farmhouse. It may sound strange, but the man was the King of Juicers — depression ware juicers, cut glass, you name it — he had them all. His antique farm tools had to go to auction, as well. I’ll bet he still has his favorites tucked away, though.

I think it is a sad thing to see people, particularly young ones, who collect things only as investments and hedges against a bad economy. I don’t think that’s why you collect something, why you search and pick over and dream about the things for which you have an interest. I’ve heard children speak of their baseball card collections as if they were investing in gold futures or drooling over stock options.

I won’t lie; had I known some of the cards I collected as a kid were going to be worth big money someday, I probably wouldn’t have shoved them between the spokes of my bike tires, and I probably wouldn’t have traded my Sandy Koufax for a Rico Petrocelli or a Tony Oliva, either.    

Even though I am devoted to my teaching, and excited about my writing, and about walking, I have to admit, I am probably most passionate about books. I love the feel of them, and the heft of a good book in my hands pleases me. I almost always carry a book with me, and I read whenever and wherever I can. 

I do keep my eyes open for bread racks, though.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at, and visit his website at He is currently working on his third book.