A clear sign that a collector is getting older is the day when he or she utters the phrase, “We need to get the young involved.” I hear that a lot at different shows every year. So, I gave it some thought. What does a person really mean when they say this?
Well, on the surface, it implies that a person feels very strongly about their hobby, and he feels others need to take it just as seriously. The best way to validate their passions is to see the interest carried on by the next generation. That seems to be a plausible line of reasoning. After all, it is how all traditions become just that—traditions.
I have bored more than a few school groups with tales of the Mexican-American War and taken military vehicles to various public outings where kids could climb into the trucks, crawl behind mounted machine guns, or ride in the jeeps. However, I must confess, I didn’t do it so much because I wanted to “get the kids involved,” but rather, the stuff genuinely excites me and I am eager to share it with anyone who will listen! I guess, deep down, I am hoping that they will care about it just as much as I do.
I haven’t used the “hard-sell” on the kids, though. I figure history and military material culture is a personal choice. If kids are exposed to military heritage and it sparks an interest, then they will follow the light. However, we have all seen the history teacher who can kill a kid’s interest faster than a can of Raid on Missouri fire-ants! It is a delicate sale, for sure.
Having worked in living history museums for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, I saw more than my share of disinterested kids. However, there were always a handful who came forward and asked good questions. It was clear the spark had been ignited deep inside of them. I wonder if any of those kids are fanning those flames today?
“Get the Kids Involved”: A Missed Opportunity
Last February, as I was tearing down my booth at a major show (believe me, I have learned my lesson about mentioning which show!), I witnessed a curious flip-flop on the “we have to get the kids involved” attitude. Oblivious to the balancing act I was performing with boxes, swords, helmets on a two-wheeled car, a fellow dealer accosted me, “I think is deplorable that the show shuts down early on Sunday!” he bellowed. I replied, “I am just a dealer like you…I have no say in the show hours.” He didn’t hear that…he had practiced this dialogue many times, and I was just the current victim. “What if a single mother wants to bring her kids to the show?” he continued. “Our hobby depends on the kids getting involved.” I muttered something about, “I wondered how many single mothers knew there was a show that weekend, and if they did…” Well, I just kept pushing my load toward the door.
When I returned to get the next pile, there were three young Boy Scouts at this dealer’s table! The Scouts were there to help tear down the tables. Because this dealer was one of the last to put away his wares, he still had cool things to capture the boys’ attention. As I past the table, I heard one of the Scouts ask if he could look at a bayonet. “NO!” was the terse answer this dealer gave the kid. He then berated the kid telling him not to touch or handle things on his table.
Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up! The same guy who had stopped me in my path not more than five minutes earlier to tell me how the show promoters had to keep the show open for the sake of single mothers and their kids, just shot down a legitimate sign of interest from a kid—and a Boy Scout, no less!
I have thought about this episode many times since then. I have pondered if there is an implied obligation to pass on history—or if just treating each other with respect will accomplish the task without making it a campaign. If that dealer had taken the time to show the Scout the bayonet, tell him a little about it, and probably answer some questions, he could have been a hero for a moment. No special program or campaign would have been necessary…he could have just given the kid a few moments of common courtesy. Sure, he probably wouldn’t have made a sale, but at least, he would have been “getting the kids involved.”
Editor, Military Vehicles & Military Trader