"So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, til my trophies at last I lay down . . . ”
When I sang this hymn as a youth in the Wapello United Methodist Church, I was pretty sure the song writer was not talking about the shiny trophies awarded for achievement in the dog show ring.
My life was awash in trophies at that time. It was the early 1980s and I was showing my first Tervuren, Gypsy, in 4-H shows (there were a lot of 4-H shows, back in the day) and at American Kennel Club shows. I won a lot, which meant I brought home a lot of trophies. Even when I didn’t win, clubs frequently gave trophies for second, third and fourth placements in a class. It was a trophy mad world and I was in the center of it.
Thirty years later, I would be quite happy to lay those trophies down but I can’t find anyone who wants them.
They lived at my parents’ house until my mother had enough and sent them to my house. They sat, packed in dusty cardboard boxes in the dark recess of an upstairs bedroom closet, for at least 10 years. Then I began the Great House Purge of 2013.
It was time to fish or cut bait when it came to those trophies. Asking them the Magic Question did not yield a positive answer. No, if we were moving they would not be worth packing up, hauling to a new house, unpacking and finding a place for.
I unwrapped every single trophy and arranged them all on the floor of an empty room. There they sat in their tarnished, scuffed, chipped, dusty glory, representing the early years of my dog training and showing career, from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s.
Fortunately, two things happened to stop the influx of trophies: 1) I went to college and did not show dogs for four years and 2) when I did return to showing dogs in the late 1980s, giving actual metal and faux marble trophies was no longer en vogue on the show scene. Prizes had changed to semi-useful items, like candle sticks or paperweights and sometimes even actual cash awards. (And blankets, coats, napkin rings and decorated bricks. This is an entire post in itself.)
Studying the vast array of victory figures lofting laurel wreaths, I wondered why I’d been so adamant my mother not take the whole works to the landfill in the first place. She had suggested that. I had responded with anguish. Now the trophies were in my house, not hers. My anguish was rapidly returning.
Here was the problem. The trophies represented a lot of good times. Achievement. Friends. Discovery. Growth. But they were dangerously close to becoming sacred icons of clutter - those worn out old things you can’t or won’t dispose of because they once played a huge part in your life, therefore you’ll spend the rest of your years with them attached to you like a millstone around your neck. They needed to go but the idea of pitching them in the Dumpster didn't feel right.
Someone suggested I donate them to the local county fair. The engraved plates could easily be removed and new ones put in their place, saving the price of buying entirely new trophies. On the surface that sounded like an excellent idea. Except for the fact that today’s youth livestock exhibitors do not want a tarnished award left over from someone else’s glory days 30 years ago. The trophies lining the livestock awards tables at the Iowa County Fair each year are of uniform sparkling style and color.
Next, I called a trophy shop in Iowa City, the same one, in fact, where many of the trophies littering my floor had originated three decades ago.
“Do you have a trophy recycling program?” I asked.
“No,” the proprietor answered, “not unless you count making a trip to the landfill.”
Apparently he routinely comes to work in the morning to find large boxes of abandoned trophies sitting on his doorstep, left there by people who were hoping they could enjoy a happy reincarnation.
Try a charity, my friends suggested. I called the Iowa Special Olympics office. “Thank you for thinking of us, but all our trophies have to be registered with Special Olympics,” they said. I have no idea what that means. I think it was a nice way of saying, “Abso-freaking-lutely no way.”
I tried several other local charities, all with the same result. In the meantime, I opened a box full of beautiful walnut plaques with the 4-H emblem attached. They were all from 1982, either from the Louisa County Fair or my 4-H club’s training show. Apparently 1982 was a banner year for me. I couldn’t throw these in the trash. These actually were recyclable.
I put them back in the box and delivered them to the gal who has instructed the Iowa County 4-H dog project for a number of years.
“Here,” I said. “Merry Christmas.” I was not sure how this was going to be received but she seemed genuinely pleased and said she could give them as special awards to the kids who attended this year’s project training classes, separate from any county fair prizes.
It was a small victory for me - one without a victory figure.
And now I'm working up the fortitude to chuck the rest of them in the trash.