Whenever I visited Phyllis Baskerville’s toy museum in Fortville, I was mesmerized by the endless array of toys, dolls, board games, records, lunchboxes, and old magazines, each one in mint condition and all impeccably displayed. She could talk non-stop — and often did — about any toy you expressed interest in. The old Pentecostal church that housed her collection was dubbed "Dolly Mamas" and was in operation for more than 12 years.
Phyllis and I became good friends and when she fell ill several years ago, she asked if there was anything in the museum I particularly had my eye on. Was there ever! Both eyes … but I was uncomfortable making the request. She had life-size statues of my comic heroes, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, immaculately dressed in their classic poses, replete with bowler hats. I opted instead for a less extravagant selection, a set of Laurel and Hardy puppets, which I still proudly display on my bookshelf.
Before Phyllis died last year, a final wish was that her prized assortment of memorabilia would always remain as a single unit. I didn’t mean to disrespect that wish, but I knew I could give those statues the home they deserved — a place where they would be truly loved. And so, I approached her daughters, Tara and Tammi, and made my intention clear. I offered to buy the pair, certain that any amount within my means would appear paltry.
Phyllis would have never “sold” any individual item, so no money exchanged hands last week. I’d like to think Tammi and Tara knew that their Mom would have wanted “the boys” to go to a true Laurel and Hardy fan. Let’s just call it a successful open adoption.
With the help of my son and a hired strongman, we loaded the duo onto a flatbed truck and headed to my house. I immediately posted a photo on Facebook, featuring me standing between the iconic characters. I wondered if anyone else would share my excitement. Many did, and there were also a few funny posts:
Dan Carpenter (former columnist for the Indianapolis Star) said: “So lifelike, all three.”
Another post read: “Which is the dumb one?”
“Who’s the guy in the middle?” asked Jimmy H.
From Cindy W: “I always get confused. Which one is Abbot and which is Costello?” (I have some younger Facebook friends.)
My wife, Mary Ellen, who was not a big Laurel and Hardy fan, had agreed several months ago to accompany me to the movie "Stan and Ollie," a brilliant biopic of the team’s years together. We both teared up at the end.
Nevertheless, I was still not certain Mary Ellen would like having these enormous artifacts in our home. When they were moved into the basement, they took up even more space than I had calculated, so I was shocked at my wife’s comment. “Wow, they are really classy looking,” she said, words she has generally reserved for the likes of Cary Grant and Gregory Peck.
There was a brief discussion about whether Stan and Ollie should be placed on either side of our TV in the basement. We chose instead for them to always be standing next to each other.
Actually, history had already decided that.
Dick Wolfsie is a television news reporter, syndicated humor columnist and author. He can be reached at Wolfsie@aol.com