SOLC 2014: Building Habits of Mind, One Stamp at a Time


“What do you call the stamp guys? Philatelists or something?

Well, whatever it is, it’s some Greek or Latin root meaning ‘complete nerd.’”

~ Chris M. Keating ~

Jeopardy! is one of my favorite shows. In fact, it’s the one show I rarely miss. I always shout out the answers, and my husband always looks at me and wonders how I know some obscure response.

The truth is I don’t know how I know some of these things. Like everyone, I just learned them somewhere along the way. But yesterday afternoon, when I stopped at the Post Office to mail some packages, I had a flashback. As I stood in line, I remembered being there as a kid, excited about buying the newest commemorative for my stamp collection. Although it’s been relegated to the far recesses of my mind for at least 35 years, there was a time when I was obsessed with stamp collecting.

This passion began when I was about ten. I don’t even remember what got me started. But at some point in the early seventies, I became the proud owner of an H.E. Harris Pioneer stamp album. Friends and neighbors gave me stamps torn from their mail, and I began saving my allowance so I could order assortments of tiny treasures packaged in curious little glassine envelopes. I used to stay up late on Friday nights, licking stamp hinges and adding my latest acquisitions to my album.


As my collection grew, I upgraded to a Traveler album. Like the Pioneer, all the countries of the world were arranged alphabetically, but my new album had statistical information about each country. When I had a stamp to add from a particular country, I read each one of these, apparently storing bits of trivia for some future Jeopardy! appearance.

I learned a lot about world culture from my collection. I loved the glossy, miniature reproductions of Renaissance paintings the best. Some of my favorite stamps were from the old Soviet block countries. Astronauts and animals were popular, too. U.S. stamps taught me a lot of names and dates from American history, and famous scientists, authors, and explorers have all had stamps issued in their honor.

But, as one of my English professors loved to ask, so what? What difference does it make? Well, collecting stamps piqued my curiousity. Why did some Austrian stamps have big black letters stamped across the face of some deposed monarch? And where was Bulgaria, exactly? Without knowing it, I was developing the habits of mind that are so highly valued these days. Persistence, independent and flexible thinking, gathering data, I was doing it all. Best of all, I was doing it because I wanted to; no one was pressuring me.

By the time I was in high school, my stamp collecting days were behind me. There were too many other interesting things to do. But the lessons I learned at my dining room table on those long ago Friday nights have served me well over the years. Even if I never make it onto Jeopardy!

Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge.  Your hard work is truly appreciated! Thank you also to the support team, who are helping out to make this month-long Slice of Life Challenge possible. I can’t wait to see where our journey leads!