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February 25 • 04:38 AM
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Is this the end of my bucket list?



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December 13, 2017
Recently I told Sue that I had completed my "bucket list." Then it dawned on me that if I've completed the list there was nothing else to live for and I might as well cash in my chips, so to speak. So I added some more things to the list. Your bucket list should never be completed.

Bucket list is a great term, coming from the 2007 movie of the same name. It means, of course, things you want to do before you "kick the bucket" (die). Incidentally, I'm not sure where the phrase "kick the bucket" comes from. I mean, if you're dead, how can you kick a bucket? And if you're alive, if you kick a bucket you will most certainly hurt your foot but will not likely die. But I digress.

Everyone has a bucket list. We just didn't call it that until Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman did. Much of mine revolves around my interest in the Presidents of the United States which goes back to second grade when President Eisenhower's picture hung in our classroom.

In 1965 President Truman answered a letter I wrote to him. His reply was very short but it was my first Presidential autograph. I set my sights on getting the autographs of all of the Chief Executives. I had no idea whether that was possible or not. Obviously, since most of them had passed on to the great White House in the sky, writing to them was not an option.

But I discovered an autograph dealer's catalog while visiting a friend. Ah ha, it would be possible, though not for free. I can't remember exactly which one I bought first but I think it was a land grant document signed by John Quincy Adams. In an antique store I found and purchased documents signed by Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge. I found a White House card signed by Woodrow Wilson.

I was amazed that once I started looking, I was able to find Presidential autographs in many places. A friend of mine gave me a Dwight Eisenhower piece he had received in person. A Congressman was able to get Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter for me. After they left office, Richard Nixon, Ford, Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush 41 were happy to sign things I mailed to them.

Friends got Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for me. At book stores, I bought Herbert Hoover, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Another friend gave me an Andrew Johnson document in return for a favor I did for him.

I discovered auction houses that specialized in Presidential material. Over time, I got John Adams, Millard Fillmore, U.S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and others this way.

Civil War and other memorabilia or antique shows turned up more like James A. Garfield, William McKinley and Chester A. Arthur.

I joined the Universal Autograph Collectors Club and began to trade with other collectors. And, in addition, I got some things signed in person when I met Presidents Nixon through George W. Bush.

Over the years I loved my hobby and added many, many pieces. The best story, however, is when I met Sue. We had dated for quite a while and I knew I loved her and she was to be "the one." But did she feel the same? My answer came on my birthday one year when she gave me a letter endorsed by Abraham Lincoln! Now, readers, if a woman gives you an Abraham Lincoln autograph it means she loves you and you have to marry her. So I did.

Lo and behold, the following birthday she presented me with a piece signed by Thomas Jefferson! Wow, she REALLY loved me! However, the next year…nothing. The year after…nothing. And nothing since. But she still loves me, I think. I just became high maintenance.

I could now boast that I had the autographs of every President except George Washington. He was out there but rather on the expensive side. In some cases, I had quite a few of this President or that and sold some off in order to see if I could get a Washington.

Finally, a Free Frank (envelope used to send a letter by Washington to Col. Clement Biddle signed by Washington) came up for auction. I put in a bid but the online auction took more than three weeks so I waited and waited. I was overwhelmed when I received notice that the George Washington piece was now mine. The collection was complete.

The collection, by the way, is stored in a safe vault in a bank, not at home, and eventually its proceeds will become part of the Liblong Scholarship at Michigan State.

But when I take out a piece and look at the signature I get goose bumps. That same signature on bills passed by Congress made laws and at that very moment, the President was thinking about the piece that I now held in my hand. For an American and history buff, it doesn't get any better than that.

So, I hope my bucket list really isn't complete but I am very proud of this part of it. Incidentally, I have the autograph of Donald Trump, too.

Email Rick at rick.liblong@cox.net.

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