Today, this morning, here in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, I am going to share a story, a rumbling of a recollection, which, hopefully, recalls and invokes the importance of these great virtues in life and living: confidence, commitment, determination, and dedication, virtues that are important and imperative in our hobby, the `world of money', as well as in our daily trials. Moreover, my message----this musing to fill in the time while the stomach digests----speaks of mentors. While I talk, please remember your mentor and his or her lessons. They may again speak to you today.
My story begins some three decades ago, back in those halcyon days of my youth, when I weighted less, looked better, could actually run a mile, and party to dawn. I had joined the Vallejo (California) Numismatic Society, and that was in August 1972. For those of you who heard my `Handshake' last July 2005 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, you might believe this story is a continuation. Well, it is, and it is not.
Within a few months of joining, I noticed that an old gentleman, always present and always still dressed as a gentleman, was highly respected and always welcomed. He was obviously someone who knew everyone, whose opinion was sought, and whose counsel was appreciated. He was `William Frealin 'Bill' Cummings'.
One meeting, I do not recall the date, but it must have been in 1973, I brought my cheap Walking Liberty Half Dollars, in the better blue Whitman Album, to the meeting and was hoping that Mr. Cummings would be present and would look at a particular Half Dollar with an error.
He was, and he gladly examined the Half Dollar, explained the error----it was a lamination----and said a few cursory comments about my set, wishing me well. This was the start of a friendship that would last until `Bill' would pass away.
Almost immediately, he and I 'hit-it-off'. We became good friends, and he even met my parents and spoke fondly of them and about me to them. I began to buy regularly from him, paying on a handshake or with a scribble IOU. I visited his house at `1120 Kentucky' like it was my second home. On Friday evenings, after `Bill' and his wife, Addie, had installed cable television, I would walk over. He and I would set on his coach, watch a movie, and Addie would make popcorn for us.
`Bill' and I were not the same, and by any measure, we should have not `hit-it-off. I was in my 20s, fresh from higher education, already a card-carrying Republican. Bill was in his 70s, never finished formal education, a life-long card-carrying union Democrat. My career was in education, and his had been a steam locomotive fireman and engineer. His jokes were old and never required profanity, and mine, well, were sick and profane. Yet, we shared a passion for coins, and even stamps. That was our bond. That was our love.
For a time, there was not a week that I would not `swing-by', not to buy or do some business, but just to talk, and no long conversations and late-night graduate student discourse, just some simple talk, a few remembrances, or an old story.
It would be him and me, on the coach, viewing a baseball game or one of the seven television shop operas that he religiously watched, with his parakeet to join us. And, that parakeet could be another story too, particularly with `Bill's' false teeth.
It was some day, long forgotten to the actual date, maybe in 1978 or 1979 that I had stopped-by, as usual, and we were talking. It was one of those conversations that mentors have, and you never realize the lesson until it is learned.
I remarked that for whatever reason there would never be a chance for me to "own the things that you had, Bill. No way, not enough money or opportunity". I rambled about how he had built collections from circulation or those great finds that he had purchased as a coin and stamp dealer, and other nonsense, you might say.
There was a slight pause and then `Bill', with a small smile and surety in his quiet voice, simply retorted, "You Will'. Pausing again, "You Will".
Nothing more. That was it. No explanations. Just "You Will". (Pause)
It was another typical Saturday for me: assorted chores and errands, yard work, check the mail at post office boxes, and what always has been my Saturday's. Yet, on this particularly Saturday, September 12, 1980, a voice came to me, as one to soldiers in battle, sailors at sea, and mothers with children, it said "Go visit your friend `Bill' now not later in afternoon".
You see `Bill' was in Kaiser, the local California-based health maintenance organization hospital, again, and over the past year or so, he had been `in-and-out' of Kaiser and his health was declining, although due to my youth and hope, I did not realize it.
There he was setting-up in the hospital bed, with his famous banana milkshake. We talked, but our conversation seemed strained. He was waiting, and waiting for Addie. I joked with him and talked coins, but his mind was elsewhere. After a few minutes, Addie arrived, and I said my good-byes.
Telephone rang that evening. It was Addie, and she just wanted me to know that twenty minutes after I had left, `Bill' had passed away.
My mentor, and my friend, was gone. To this day, his death should never have been, if you understand my point. But, it was.
It was Sunday, April 28, 1985, and it was the Vallejo Coin Show at Dan Foley Cultural Center, where, if the Show slowed, the view would be of the newly opened amusement park, MarineWorld/Africa USA, across Lake Cabot.
It was typical Vallejo Coin Show for me: always something to do, always something to do, and always on the go, and always on the go.
Yet, having resolved to spend some money, in mid-afternoon, at last, I paused and was dealing with Frederick R. Long and buying, and this is not joke, Newfoundland Half Dollars. Boy, was I crazy about those `Newfie' Halves and had saved my money to buy whatever he had.
Frederick R. Long was an established coin dealer throughout California, and his specialty was Canadian. His cases would be filled with the Cents, Five Cents, on through to the Dollars. He was expensive, but he had the stuff and knew Canadian numismatics.
Whatever, the show had progressed, and I had spent my few hundred of dollars, wiping-out my `show money', when he said----and we have all heard this remark----"Michael, let me show you something else"----coupled with the words we have all heard too----"I can make you a deal on this coin".
Impatient, exhausted, and angered, standing at his cases, ready to leave for my show duties, I replied a curt "What?".
He turned and from a red cardboard coin flip box handed me the coin, saying "Michael, I can do you well with this coin".
Taking the coin, it was immediate: "My God, Oh My God, This Is It! This Is It! THIS IS IT! This is the dollar! Oh My God".
He had handed me a pristine 1948 Canadian Dollar, the key to Canadian Dollars.
As I kept rambling, in an ever-louder voice, which now attracted attention, he mentioned about its grade, the hairlines on King George VI, and how in Canada it could be a higher price.
I was not paying any attention. I was holding the key to Canadian Dollars. All that I really heard was the price "$800.00".
My response was ever increasing volume of ramble and rumble about how I could not afford it, would not pay by check, where could I get this amount of cash, he would not trust me to owe him, which he would, and so on.
His response, calmly and confidently, was that the coin and price were an opportunity.
Al Renn----Albert R. 'Al' Renn, Jr.----our Society's biker coin hobbyist----wiih tattoos, false eye with '69', and leather---just walked by, having heard my commotion, and kindly confirmed it was an opportunity.
But what was I to do? Setting the 1948 Dollar back on his cases, I looked out toward entrance, and a voice came to me, as one with soldiers in battle, sailors as sea, and mothers with children, I turned and walked about ten feet straight through the show traffic and between two bourse tables across from Frederick R. Long's table to Reuben Lee `Lucky' Williams, whose life would be a story too, and said, "Lucky, I need $800.00 and can get you the cash by Tuesday". Without asking a question or for my IOU or even a handshake, `Lucky' opened his famous purse----he carried a small purse or bag rather than have cash in his wallet----and counted-out eight One Hundred Dollars bills.
I now owned the key to Canadian Dollars. It was immediate news on the Show's floor. I had arrived, and over the next few years, thanks to Frederick R. Long, would complete my Canadian Dollars.
Yes, `Lucky' was repaid, and yes, I still have the 1948 Canadian Dollar, and would have brought it, but it is safe and secure in my safe deposit box.
Sometime later, not sure when, but whenever a lesson is finally learned, a voice, as one with soldiers in battle, sailors at sea, and mothers with children, tapped me on my shoulder and said, with a small smile and surety, "You Will".
Yes, `Bill' was right with his "You Will", for I did.
From the 1948 Dollar, it would be two 1909SVDB Lincoln Cents, silver and bronze Carnegie Medals, Devil in the Hair consecutive serial numbered One Dollars, two Yap Stones, and so on. Yes, `Bill' was right with his "You Will", for I did.
Yes, we are not talking about the real rarities on front pages of NUMISMATIC NEWS or CANADIAN COIN NEWS. Yes, there are many 1948 Dollars, in all grades and prices, here at this Convention. Yes, anybody with money or opportunity could have the same. But.
My friends, it was his words "You Will" that are my story's point. Those words instilled, not at first taught but with time, those virtues of confidence, commitment, determination, and dedication. Those words, that simple sentence, brought me to this very day here with you.
Closing, said by an old man, long deceased from a forgotten afternoon, those words were challenge and hope. Those words are what mentors----us here----are to instill and to inspire.
`Bill, Just Let You Know: I Did. Thanks'.