A goal without a plan is just a wish. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
One day while cleaning up the closet in our spare bedroom, I came across half a dozen boxes overflowing with photos, documents and letters. Although some items, especially those bundled together and secured with elastic bands, were in a fairly recognizable chronological order, most were in a state of extreme disarray. Having endeavored to bring order to chaotic situations throughout my thirty years of teaching, I immediately felt the need to peruse, sort, and arrange this long forgotten wealth of family information. A formidable task lay before me. What could I do, when I had already filled my waking hours with must-do activities? To prioritize is the name of the game. Oh, how I hate this word, even though it is derived from my beloved ancient language Latin! Something ‘prior’ is something that comes before else. It became obvious to me that sorting hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures and papers would be very time-consuming and would be strictly an indoor activity for the long, dreary winter months, when my only outdoor jobs would be splitting and stacking firewood, shovelling snow and knocking off sheets of ice off the roof.
The task of sorting was just the beginning. To my dismay I soon discovered that there was much more to be done than putting the photos into their correct chronological order. I had to separate the goats from the sheep. Many photos were of poor photographic quality or had doubles. Most had no description written on the backside. By comparing them with photos, I was able to determine at least the approximate dates of when they had been taken. Also identification of the people proved often to be very difficult, if not down right impossible. In order to provide easy access to the documents, post cards, letters, photos, audio and video files, I felt the need for a comprehensive data base that could be saved on DVD or better still on an external hard-drive. So after I had completed all the sorting and culling one year at a time, I had to scan where possible the ordered material and transfer the digital files to the external drive with the gigantic storage capacity of one TB, just in case my Dell laptop should ever crash.
All in all my very reliable Epson scanner had cranked out about 600 files or so, when I came across bundles of letters that Biene and I had written each other from 1962 to 1966. Naturally, they too had to be sorted so that the reader could truly experience the full extent of a most unusual and fascinating love story. Quite a few letters in the four-year period were left undated. So if I wanted them all to be in the right sequence, I had to actually read each and every letter to derive from its content its exact place in the novel sized bulk of our entire correspondence. As I was reading the first couple of letters, I encountered lines that expressed thoughts and feelings of love, joy and pain oh so vividly, passionately and authentically and radiating so much warmth, I felt that I had found a precious treasure that had been hidden for so long in the chaotic junkyard of our physical belongings. Eagerly I continued reading even those letters that were correctly dated. A flood of thoughts and feelings were racing through my entire being. I recognized that I had rediscovered in my heart a much greater treasure than just the letters spread out before me, a treasure that had lain for the so many years deeply buried in my heart under the clutter of the necessities of everyday life. I had found and experienced all over again the first love I had felt for Biene. The warm glow of the remaining ember, so it seemed to me, received suddenly and unexpectedly a fresh breeze of ethereal oxygen that set my heart on fire. Almost like being under a spell, I kept reading, threw overboard my so carefully scheduled routines of the day, even skipped my afternoon nap and kept going with tears occasionally welling up from the intensity of my emotional experience, not being ashamed of my tears, but joyfully seeking to delve deeper and deeper into the caverns glittering in the light of inner discovery.
In the days that followed I conceived a plan that would finally put an end to Monster P’s delaying tactics. I decided to modify the original project of writing the history of the Klopp and Panknin families in such way that all the major obstacles would be swept aside. True, all the people that would have been able to provide me with names, dates and other data of close and distant relatives had passed away and with their deaths I lost forever the sources of information essential for such an undertaking. But who would truly be interested, except the odd genealogy researcher, in the long lists of names, in the perusal of seemingly endless dates of births, weddings and deaths? What pleasure, I asked myself, is there in the sterile details about Aunt X and Uncle Y, who bequeathed to posterity nothing except their boring vital statistics. On the other hand, I believe, as long as Biene and I live, there is an amazing story to be told, the story of our lives, the story of our parents, the story of our brothers and sisters, the story of our children and grand-children, and the story of all the people we encountered during the course of almost seven decades, in short the story of every person who contributed to make our lives more colorful and meaningful. Looking at the photos, perusing old documents, listening to voices from audio files, watching digitized old Super 8 movies and more recent video clips, reading heart-felt letters, I noticed how these items from the past were jogging my memory creating vivid images in my mind and recreating a plethora of long forgotten experiences. It was during these moments of intense re-awakening of my own past that I came to realize that the present is aimless and will wander off into all directions without a firm link to one’s past. Just as in geometry we need at least two points to determine a line, so our lives to be meaningful need to have a conscious awareness of the connection between past and present. Such awareness will then also grant an individual vision for a purposeful future. Based on the reflections sparked by my archival activities, I decided on a plan of writing a story that I knew best, the story of Peter and Gertrud Klopp, a story that would combine three major strands: my memoirs, my autobiography and a family history with an emphasis on only true and interesting episodes with a minimum of vital statistics.