Technology overtakes tradition

In a few weeks my wife and I will be celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary. Not surprisingly, we have been trying to discover what each would like as a present. Over the years I have learned that the best way to be certain of what Karen wants as a gift is simply to wait until she suggests a gift for me. Almost always, her suggestion for me is actually what she wants for herself.

Karen and I are both antiques addicts and usually our gifts are of the ancient sort. Karen’s interests have been amazingly consistent over the past several decades: She collects antique needlework tools and patterns, something somewhat unexpected for someone who works with high energy plasmas and innovative semiconductor materials for a living.

I, on the other hand, am quite fickle in my collecting. Although I rarely refuse a nice antiquarian book or a 19th century engraving, I can be entranced by almost anything old that catches my eye. I view myself as the ultimate recycler. I’d rather buy an old coat at a vintage shop than a new, high-fashion model at a trendy shop. Most of my office supplies come from estate sales where I can buy reams of paper, dozens of pencils and the occasional pack of carbon paper (increasingly hard to find these days) for a dollar or less.

Actually, the only new things I buy are food items. At any rate, buying gifts for me is usually fairly simple: just follow the formula. Make it old, make it odd, make it interesting.

Anyway, our annual game of “what do you want for our anniversary” has been going on for a few weeks. We both agreed that gifts shouldn’t be extravagant this year. The economy is bad and we have been increasing our charitable giving. I got quite excited when I discovered that there was to be an online auction of vintage embroidery tools this coming weekend. Of course, I immediately began pestering Karen to look at the catalogue with me and indicate what she wanted.

Her lack of enthusiasm was obvious. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was wrong. This was the perfect example of serendipity: an auction of items she has collected for 20-plus years just days before our anniversary. I was dumbfounded.

Finally the mystery was solved in the traditional way. Karen said: “Oh, by the way, I was thinking that I’d get you an iPad for an anniversary gift.” I was dumbfounded. An iPad! That’s not an antique. In fact, it’s so new that they’re difficult to buy. I was in shock. Modernity was now invading our married life. Of course, I said, per plan, “I don’t want an iPad, but do you?” Sheepishly, Karen nodded, “Yes. I think they’re cool,” she said.

O tempora, o mores, antiques abandoned; iPads moving in. What shall become of us? By the way, if you’re wondering what I told Karen I wanted as her gift to me, it wasn’t a matching iPad. There’s an interesting archive of a 19th century Southern judge’s papers being sold online on Saturday. I’ll be bidding for it.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World. Read his “Grumpy Professor” blog at