There it was, an autographed Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe set of memorabilia for the ages: a stick signed “Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey No. 9,” and a puck signed “Gordie Howe.”
The stick and puck sat high on the shelves of my favorite memorabilia shop, the Penalty Box, in my hometown of Swartz Creek, Mich. I was 11, my mother didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted, rather needed, the Howe pieces to really kick off what has become a marvelous memorabilia collection.
I asked the shopkeeper the inevitable question: “How much?” I uttered, a curious kid knowing that the items were far out of my price range. Since I was a regular customer, Bryan, the owner, said “For you, $500.”
And that was a deal, considering the retail on the stick, at the time, was well over $700, and the puck was at least $200. My mother put $50 down as a good-faith payment, and Bryan agreed to hold both for about a month.
I needed $450 to take the goods home. I made a lousy $10 a week in allowance for mowing my own yard. So I brainstormed, and then came up with a novel idea: Why not mow my neighbors’ yards? I lived in a subdivision with roughly 100 houses or so — it would work, I thought.
And it did work.
All my neighbors knew me well — I played sports with their kids and could always be seen running around the neighborhood. I charged $20 per yard, which many, when combining the front and back, were about an acre. It was a fair price.
My neighbor Pam gave me my first deal. She knew what I was doing, so she paid me $30, but told me not to tell my mother. I mowed her lawn once a week, so she covered roughly a quarter of my projected costs.
The old man across the street, Cleo, had me mow his lawn once a week, too. But he only paid me $10, and had one of the biggest yards on the block. I felt cheated, but I needed the money. He let me use his gas, so I guess it was fair. I used that gas to mow other neighbors’ lawns, so it worked out.
After a week, I already had nearly $200 in my pocket. The next couple of weeks were slow, but I finally made it. I went to the Penalty Box, paid the remaining $450 for the Howe memorabilia and left a happy kid.
I’ve had both items for about 19 years. I’m nearly 30, and have an extensive collection of valuables. However, my Howe stick and puck are the pieces I’m most proud of, by far. Not only because they’ve more than doubled in value, nearly tripled, but because of the way I obtained them.
I was the envy of all my friends, who often tried to make trades with me. No dice, fellas. The stick and puck were mine forever. To this day, they are displayed in my home office. I took a break while writing this piece just to have a moment, a good laugh, and remember all the work it took to get my pieces of Gordie.
I went through two pair of shoes that summer, fell in a couple ditches, smelled like gas all the time and got sunburned beyond belief. I had to limit my summer activities just to mow lawns, which I continued doing after purchasing the Howe stick and puck. I missed out on the prime days of summer. While my friends were playing backyard football, baseball and street hockey, I was mowing lawns. They’d ride their bikes past, laugh and point. But I knew it would be worth it in the end.
I built a strong list of clients, bought more pieces, and by time I was 13, had a collection worth well over $3,000. Now, the collection is well beyond that, featuring stuff I could only dream of as a kid. I think back to those days of mowing lawns, even shoveling snow from driveways, and remember the satisfaction I earned.
I have pieces worth more than the stick and puck. A few, actually. But that Northland pro model and signed puck are the crowning jewels. I remain an avid collector, and have friends who do the same. They love hearing the story of how I got the Howe memorabilia. For some reason, the story gets better and better. I think the size of the lawns, and the level of skill it took to mow them, has been exaggerated over the years.
I estimate mowing over 20 lawns to buy the stick, which is probably accurate. But when I have kids, that number will probably get closer to 50, and “I did all that work for $5 a lawn” will surely be a phrase I tell them in an attempt to make them understand the value of hard work.
Still a big kid at heart, collecting memorabilia is a hobby with a lot of investment put forth, but little monetary return. See, I don’t sell anything. I keep it all. I collect jerseys, balls, pucks, sticks, whatever. The kid in me won’t allow items to go up for sale.
I’ve had several, several offers for the Howe stick and puck. At one point, a gentleman offered me $2,000 for both. I said “no thanks.” They’re worth it, no doubt. And during these times, a little extra money wouldn’t hurt. But that stick and puck represent a piece of my childhood, which isn’t up for sale.