A Gift of Personal Sports Memorabilia Among All-Time Favorite

Nate Olson Bio Page
I sat on a kitchen chair with a pile of presents at my feet, ready to dig in. That’s when my then-five-year-old nephew Seth let the cat out of the bag.

“Have you opened the Wazoback stuff yet,” he said excitedly. He then pulled a small package from my pile and thrust it in my lap. He knew of the contents because he had helped his grandmother, my mother-in-law, Yvonne, wrap the gift earlier in the week.

I peeled back the wrapping paper to find a simple blue folder. There were several publications stacked neatly in one of the pockets. First, I noticed a bulge in the pocket and pulled out a vintage Arkansas Razorbacks cigarette lighter. A twist of the knob played the fight song.

I was delighted. I knew hard-core Razorback fans would give their right arm for a piece of memorabilia like that, but that was just the beginning. The publications were old U of A programs — 1958 Arkansas vs. Hardin Simmons (with a ticket tucked inside) and the 1958 Arkansas Shoats (freshman squad) vs. Texas Tech. There was also a 1959 Arkansas vs. Oklahoma State program.

I thumbed through the programs and loved the vintage design, photos and advertisements. I also noticed the big names on the rosters like quarterback Billy Moore, fullback Jim Mooty, offensive lineman Barry Sanders and running back Lance Alworth.

The rest of my presents took a backseat while I examined these artifacts that really belonged in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. They were in good condition, and the ticket was flawless.

There was one other program tucked behind the Hogs programs in the folder pocket. It was a 1990 Arkansas Travelers program with Bob Feller’s signature written neatly across the top. I’m a passionate baseball fan, and oddly enough have been a New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs fan since I was a little kid (That’s a topic for another column.) However, Feller, who was a career Cleveland Indian, is among my all-time favorite players. I am fond of the hard-throwing Hall of Famer because, like me, he has Iowa roots. He returned to his hometown of Van Meter every summer for a celebration at his museum. He was a proud Iowa farm boy at heart.

In the summer of 1997 I met him at an Iowa Cubs (AAA affiliate for the Chicago Cubs) game, but I didn’t ask for his autograph since I was in the press box in the presence of other media members. For my 30th birthday my parents got me a signed ball and baseball card mounted on a wooden stand. Now, I had three different pieces of signed Feller memorabilia.

I left my presents in the kitchen and found Yvonne opening her gifts in the den. She saw me enter the room, and she knew I had just opened the treasure trove. She smiled and filled me in on the back-story.

She had collected the programs while on dates at the games at War Memorial Stadium in her native Little Rock. She got the Feller autograph while he made an appearance at the Travs game that summer. She and my wife, Sheena, gathered discount coupons often and attended many games at Ray Winder Field over the years. One of the many reasons I love both women.

“Man, you really didn’t have to give me this stuff. I know there are a lot of memories here,” I said.

“I want you to have them. I know you will appreciate them,” she said.

It was classic Yvonne. She is not well to do, but she is one of the most caring women I’ve known — much like my mom. She is kind and nurturing. The recipients include her family, church members, friends and even total strangers. Her kindness reaches many.

She relies on a strong faith in God, and takes to heart His commandment to love one another. While she has had hardships and struggles in her life, you wouldn’t know it. She smiles and laughs often. Her love of sports and ability to make award-winning barbecue and lip-smacking peanut butter pies makes her a candidate for Greatest Mother-in-Law ever.

The gift in the Christmas of 2006 sealed it. I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of great gifts over the years. Two great parents assured wonderful Christmases and Birthdays that included a Millennium Falcon replica in 1981, an Atari game system and game-used World Series baseball in 1982 and a Nintendo in 1987 and the Feller ball and card when I was a grown man. There was also the black leather coat that I still have, that Sheena gave me our first Christmas.

Yvonne’s heart-felt and personal gift ranks as one of the best. I won’t ever forget it, and I’m going to make sure my boys (3 and 16 months) don’t either. I’m going to get the programs framed, and pass them down to them. Some day we will sit by the Christmas tree, sip some eggnog, and I will tell them this great Christmas story that epitomizes their Grandmother.

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