University City

Cleaning out office yields accidental archives

We found postcards with sketches of New York landmarks. One is dated from the 1920s. The author describes a "swell street" she visited.

I have no idea how we acquired the postcards, or why.

We found a first love note written to our now 20-year-old son, Erik, when he was a mere 5. The author had blond hair and was named Jessica.

I have a good idea why I am keeping Jessica's "I love you" and red crayon heart.

We were cleaning out our home office, sorting through the contents of almost two decades of life.

When my husband, Ralf, held up a box of transparency film for printing, Erik snorted.

"They're like an archeopterix," he said. "Not quite in the dinosaur-transparency era; not quite in the avian-printer era, just sort of stuck between epochs."

I held up a small, sealed bag of brand new Euro coins.

"Well," I said, "this is useless. The Euro is going to pot."

"Not if Germany has any say in the matter!" Ralf protested immediately. (Ralf was born in Germany.)

"Greece and Italy have a say in the matter," I noted dryly.

Ralf began to muse.

"I see Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy as Pinky and the Brain. Sarkozy is Pinky. Merkel is the brain. Together, they will conquer the world."

"I wonder how Sarkozy would say 'narf,' " Erik asked. "It would be very hard to do with a French accent."

My two men started singing the theme to the TV cartoon show "Pinky and the Brain."

Ralf sang cheerfully: "One is a genius; the other is insane."

We all laughed. That happens after hours spent in mindless labor.

We returned to the work of rediscovering our family history.

The shredder worked overtime while we listened to jazz. Gradually, the rest of the house filled with the contents of the office. File cabinets, bookshelves, supplies.

A shelving unit emerged from the closet. Behind it, we found a floppy disk stuck to the wall.

"It's trying to escape!" I said.

Then Ralf discovered Erik's old Radio Shack robotic arm in the corner.

"It won't work," Erik said. (Erik is a pessimist.)

Naturally, Ralf did not agree. (Ralf is an optimist.) He brought it into the kitchen, set it on the counter and flipped a switch. The growl of a cheaply made toy filled the room.

"Ha-ha, ha- ha!" Ralf shouts with undisguised triumph, as he maneuvered the little plastic vise at the end of the arm.

"Does that thing do anything?" Erik asked.

"It grips stuff," Ralf answered happily.

A goodly number of toys bought for Erik were, I suspect, actually for my husband. Ask me about the remote-controlled airplane some time.

As of this writing, almost nothing is left in our office except a wall calendar.

It shows the year ahead of us.

Who knows what history we will collect in that year?

We will, I hope, live to find that out. In another 20 years.

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