After my Mom passed away in 2000, and then my Dad in 2004, I inherited my Mom’s rolltop desk. It’s in my home office. If you’ve ever done a Zoom call with me, you can see it behind me. It’s not my primary desk; it’s just sitting there with piles of stuff on it.
Yesterday I was looking through the drawers of the desk for a Post-It note. The drawers are mostly empty; I don’t use them. The wide drawer in the top center had some USB thumb drives in the front tray, which I’d put in there myself a few years ago and then forgot about them. In the big wide space behind the tray, there were some bills that have been sitting there since before Dad died. Behind those, two envelopes: One was from 1989, containing two tickets to my middle brother’s college graduation ceremony. They still looked new, red and shiny.
The second envelope had a handwritten address on the front, written by a child in pencil. It looked like one of my brothers' handwriting. Interesting! The return address was Harley Avenue Elementary School. That’s the school my brothers and I attended. Even more interesting!
I opened the envelope and found a letter that my brother had written to his future self, part of a class project. My youngest brother was then 9 years old, and he wrote it to himself at 19. I would have been about 15 then. It was 1976.
I took a photo with my iPhone camera and sent it to my brothers for their enjoyment. In situations like this, I marvel at what my 1976, 15-year-old self would have thought about that technology. I was a die-hard science fiction fan then; I would have loved it
The message was unremarkable. I don’t think my brother’s head was in the assignment. He is wondering what the prices will be 10 years in the future, and whether inflation will still be a big deal. Inflation was a big deal in 1976.
My youngest brother and I both had the same teacher when he was in second grade and I was in third, Arlene Kaufman, who of course we called Miss Kaufman. I actually heard from her two years ago on Facebook. Yesterday, I looked her up again on Facebook to let her know about the new find, but she seems to have deleted her account. When I heard from her, she was living in Queens, NY, parts of which were hard hit by Covid. I hope she’s doing OK.
Here’s how I heard from Miss Kaufman (I’m just going to stick with that name) two years ago: A year or so before that, in my random Internet cruising, I came across the cover of an early edition of the science fiction novel Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein. Miss Kaufman had a small library in the corner of her classroom, which contained that edition of that book. It was one of the first two chapter books I read. The other was a biography of Helen Keller. And I loved Red Planet. It awakened a love of reading, science fiction, and Heinlein that sticks with me to this day.
A year after the first post, Miss Kaufman wrote to me on Messenger; she said a former student of hers had forwarded the post to her, and she said she remembered me too. I received the message from her while I was in a hotel room in Florida on a business trip.
I wonder what that must have been like for her. You remember a 9-year-old-boy and you turn around and he’s a 50-something man writing from a hotel room in Florida. I mentioned this insight to a friend recently, who said Miss Kaufman is probably used to it. I guess that happens to teachers frequently, if they are good teachers with long careers who touch many students' lives.
Now that I think of it, regarding the Helen Keller biography: I love history now too. So thanks again, Miss Kaufman!
I never did find the Post-Its. It turned out I did not need them. I used a memo pad instead — from my first job in tech journalism, at Open Systems Today, 30 years ago. They gave me far too many of those memo pads and I rarely have a need for them, so they sit around my office. I photographed that with the iPhone, too, and sent it to my editor on that job, who I recently reconnected with about freelance work.
My office is like an archeological site. I really need to declutter. 📓