These little pieces of paper that we use to send mail became my first love for reasons that I have never been able to fully comprehend. However, it is a common trait for those of us on the autistic spectrum to fixate on a particular interest and to obsess over it. The interest is usually something inanimate. For some it can be model trains, bottle caps or stamps like me. Sometimes the obsession is with a human innovation or development like the world’s subway systems. And then sometimes it can be an obsession with other living creatures like insects, dogs, cats or birds. Unlike neurotypicals who are often interested in other neurotypicals, other people are not something we usually obsess over, except for those close to us. It is not that we don’t like or enjoy the company of other people – we do – very much. It’s just that we can become over-stimulated after a while and need some time to ourselves. In that respect we are very much like cats. I think that most people do not understand cats at all. Many think that cats do not love and are aloof and detached. I beg to differ though after raising my male cat Viktor from the time he was a kitten. I think cats have very deep emotions and love their owners deeply. But I have noticed that if you pet them too much or hold them too tight, they become overstimulated and need to get away. But there are so many times that Viktor seeks me out and wants to be with us, that I can see that he cares for us deeply. It’s just on his own terms. And so it is with those of us who are on the spectrum.
As my stories so far illustrate, I was a handful for my parents. I was always curious, easily bored and always needed to have something to do or collect. By the time I turned 6, mom was getting really tired of having to throw out all the crap I had accumulated in my room, and then having to deal with my epic meltdowns that would inevitably follow. Little did they know that soon, I would be consumed in by a world that left far less of a mess and was much easier to manage. They were about to know a different Chris from the one who bounded around the house and bounced off the walls – a Chris who would sit for hours fully engrossed, never making a sound.
My mom and dad had a large rosewood dresser in their bedroom. On top of that dresser sat my mother’s jewelry box, and beside that sat a large dish in which she kept various things like pocket change. One day, while I was in her room and standing by the dresser I was greeted by a sight that fascinated me: staring back at me was an orange portrait of Sir John A MacDonald, who I would later learn was Canada’s first Prime Minister and next him was a green portrait of Wilfred Laurier. These pictures, were on some then current Canadian 1 cent and 2 cent stamps. The year that I saw these was 1978.
I was captivated by the engraving and the artistry inherent in the late David Annisley’s sketches. To me they were beautiful works of art. I would soon learn that these two stamps were only part of a set that included sketches of the other prime ministers of Canada, all in different colours. I wanted to have them all and to see all the neat colours. My interest in collecting stamps had begun. There was something about the thrill of the hunt – going through bags of stamps on paper trying to see how many different stamps there were and looking at all the different designs and colours that would occupy me for hours. That thrill has never left me.
My first foray into this fascinating hobby was with a little plastic sack of stamps on paper and a paper back world stamp album that I bought at Coles bookstore with my parents shortly after I found those stamps on my parents dresser. Shortly after that, I celebrated my 7th birthday and for my present, my parents gave me a Harris Canada album. It was a big sturdy printed album housed in a two post vinyl binder that had spaces for every stamp ever issued by Canada up to that point. Then we went to Coles and bought a large pack of 100 different Canadian stamps and some hinges. I had hours of fun taking each stamp, placing a hinge on the back and then looking for the matching picture in the album. Eventually as I ran out of stamps to place, I gravitated to the local stamp shop in Kelowna, which was run by a Mr. Millpacher, a stocky man with a large beard and a nice wife, who was happy to give me the missing 3 cent Borden and 4c McKenzie King stamps from that first prime minister’s set for free. Every week, I would take my $2 weekly allowance and ride my bike down to the stamp shop – a good hour away by bike. The shop was located in a small strip mall that had a Dairy Queen. In those days, Dairy Queen hamburgers were the best – juicy and charbroiled, not the filler laced dry excuses for burgers that they are today. For my $2 allowance, I could have a small burger and a drink and then head over to the stamp shop where Mr. Millpacher had a 2c box. I would have enough money left over to pick 25 stamps out of his 2c box. This was my weekly routine until we moved from Kelowna when I was 8.
Whenever we would move to a new city, my first order of business was to locate and visit the nearest stamp shop. I was always successful in finding one. However, most did not have a 2c box and by the time I was in my teens, I had a larger allowance to work with, but I also had other concerns that competed for my money, mainly my desire to be accepted by girls. Despite these competing demands, I never lost my love of stamps and I never stopped collecting. Not long after I started collecting, I would dream of becoming a stamp dealer. It was a dream that would fall by the wayside in my teens and would be briefly revived again when I turned 18, before falling back into obscurity until just this year.
I will never fully understand why stamps hold such appeal for me. Sure, I can say that it is because I love the artistry and the colours, but that doesn’t really cut it when it comes to understanding how I can love something so completely that I cannot be happy without it in my life. There comes a point though where I believe that we can accept ourselves as we get older without having to fully understand every force that drives us. That is the point where I am at now: I accept my love for stamps unconditionally and seek to have my life center in sharing the magnificence of this hobby with the rest of humanity. I owe everything that I am today to these wonderful paper objects: my knowledge of the world – its places, its people and its cultures comes almost exclusively from stamps. If I didn’t directly learn about it from stamps because I saw it on a stamp, then I was inspired to go look it up because of what I saw on a stamp.