Among the calming words of love that Albin Rothermel uttered to his wife in the painful days leading up to her death on Dec. 12, 2021, was the following promise: “I will not discard the lions,” he told Bertha, who went by the name “BeBe” and who would succumb to lung cancer at the age of 72.Rothermel, a retired flooring salesman who lives in the western Massachusetts town of Dalton, doesn’t regret making the promise. But he’s struggling to fulfill it. “There are more than 5,000 lions in this house,” he said.Inside his two-story home in a working-class neighborhood is a tawny-yellow world of manes and muscle, teeth, and tails. That’s because his beloved BeBe collected anything and everything made in the image and likeness of lions.The collection includes statues (inside and out), stuffed animals, rugs, a laundry hamper, clothing, jewelry, paper clips, tissue boxes, dominos, a card tray, carousels, place mats, Pez dispensers, a music box, figurines, antique molds, paintings, puzzles, Spode China, mugs, cookie jars, an electric fan, door knockers, switch plates, old magazine covers, posters, a faucet, a hotel desk clerk bell, napkin holders, candle holders, coin banks, magnets, a neck pillow, nutcrackers, a brass fountain, belt buckles, antique inkwells, and fingernail decals.“She never saw a lion she didn’t like,” Rothermel says.“She was easy to buy for,” said her son, Raymond Griego.Does anyone out there want 5,000 lions? They’re yours (maybe), but on the proving-to-be-difficult condition that you promise they will be displayed for public enjoyment.Indeed, Rothermel says he’s not looking to sell the collection or to otherwise profit from it. He refers to this matter that has consumed his widowhood as the “lion issue.”Rothermel has reached out to local politicians, but they’re flummoxed. He has reached out to a local museum, which initially showed what he refers to as “interest and intrigue,” but no commitment. He reached out to MGM Grand — they of the lion logo — but he hasn’t heard back.He has piqued the interest of the Lion Habitat Ranch, a lion sanctuary in Henderson, Nevada. Rothermel even recently flew out there to investigate. But, again, no commitment. A woman who runs a tiger rescue sanctuary in Tennessee has also shown interest. Rothermel flew down to meet her, too. She’d love to set up a display of BeBe’s collection, but she’s still trying to secure some neighboring property to make it happen.The “lion issue” remains an issue.“I don’t have the time, money, or ability to expose the collection the way I would want it to be exposed,” said Rothermel, 76. “If I could create a museum and had that kind of money and time, I would. But I don’t.”With all these lions, it only stands to reason that Rothermel would join the Lions Club, which he did following BeBe’s death. “It’s a natural,” he said. “It fits in with my values, which are oriented to doing good for others.”Doing good for others includes doing good by the promise he made to BeBe, whom he first met in the late 1990s. Both were divorcees — he a father of five grown children and she the mother of two grown children. A maintainer of manes — a professional hairdresser — BeBe was a red-headed former biker gal with a collection of lions dating back to her teen years. Why lions? They are endangered, and so are the qualities that define them: beauty, individuality, and dignity.The flooring salesman fell in love with a lioness.“She chose me,” Rothermel says. “She won my heart.”In 1999 on their way back east from her native California, Rothermel and BeBe were married in Las Vegas. They then settled in Dalton: a man, a woman, and a lion collection.“The lion collection, in many ways, was Bebe,” he says.No need to count the ways, but suffice it to say Rothermel aided and abetted in the form of many lion gifts over the years, including two black marble lions parked on the front lawn, each worth about US$2,000 a piece. At least 25 to 30 percent of the collection “has significant value,” he says, “and that’s what I really want to protect.”He welcomes ideas.“I do try not to make promises I do not believe I can keep,” he says. In between organizing the lions, the gentleman Lion from Massachusetts has assembled a “memory wall” that includes photos of BeBe and him together from throughout the years and a card she gave him upon their 20th wedding anniversary. She wrote in it, “I wish we had met 20 years earlier.”He suspects one day they’ll be together again. He suspects the cosmos will roar.Rothermel can be reached on Facebook (facebook.com/albin.rothermel) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have ideas for his collection.