In a virtual world, I preserve pieces of the past

I was fast approaching greeting-card overload as I sifted through the racks of salutations. The cards called out their messages up and down the aisle - Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Grandparents' Day. On and on they went. Every imaginable occasion seemed to be covered.

I once saw a special card for those born on Valentine's Day and thought - there can't be a big market for that one, can there? However, by dividing the nearly 300 million of us by 365, one finds that about 800,000 people were born on Valentine's Day - a respectable slice of the market.

I do enjoy sending cards and letters - what I persist in calling "real" mail - but I was beginning to look at the proliferation of greetings as a bit much. Soon, there would be a card-sending occasion for every day of the year.

Then my daughter called to tell me she was going to have a baby. This would be my first grandchild. Suddenly, Grandparents' Day didn't seem all that superfluous.

The prospect of a new generation sent me scurrying down to our basement "attic" in search of artifacts from past generations. I often find myself drawn there when confronted with one of life's milestones. There are time capsules at the bottom of those stairs, just waiting to be discovered.

In these days of virtual reality - an oxymoron if ever there were one - I enjoy holding in my hands some solid object once touched by a relative long passed away - a person whose presence here on Earth was essential to my own.

On these forays into the basement I don't search for anything in particular, but to paraphrase, "I know it when I find it." In this case, my hand fell upon a small gray catalog advertising baby carriages and go-carts for the year 1912. Yes, this was it.

The term go-cart conjures up an image that is certainly different from what I found as I turned the pages of that catalog. In 1912, a go-cart was what we today call a stroller. Perhaps the name was an attempt to assure potential buyers that one could just put the baby in the cart and go! Even 100 years ago there was an effort to make it all seem so easy.

I imagined my grandmother turning those pages, choosing the go-cart for her baby-to-be.

There were an amazing number of models - more than 300 in all - of leather, wicker, and wood. Some had collapsible hoods or reclined. One was named the Pullman Sleeper, which brought to mind the surreal image of a long line of buggies chugging down the tracks behind a smoking locomotive.

Several of the pages had corners turned down, but tucked in one page was a tiny photo of my two aunts as toddlers, their heads topped by ribbons tied in huge bows. My mother was the youngest of the three, and with this clue I surmised that the carriage was probably being chosen for her.

The price was an outrageous $41. I made a quick call to my economics- educated son and found that in today's dollars that carriage would cost $794.17 - pricey indeed!

Then I recalled a photo with just such a baby carriage. The picture was taken in the front yard of my great-grandmother's house with the family formally posed. With little effort, I found this photo on a bookcase in the living room.

Hired hands held horses in the background, and I could imagine the effort it took for my grandfather to arrange the people and animals just so.

My grandmother stood behind the carriage. My two aunts looked like statues, those familiar bows perched on their heads.

My great-grandmother relaxed in a chair as my mother peeked out of the go-cart. Here in my hands was a convergence of things from the past - the catalog with the go-cart, and a photograph of that very go-cart in use.

Now another baby is on the way. Again there will be careful choosing of baby things for the special creature that will soon take up residence in our lives.

As I look back at the catalog, I have to wonder: Will those future memories be rendered into code and buried in the bowels of our computers? If so, they will not be stumbled over so easily in a few years. In 100 years, how will we ever find them?

I was energized by this somewhat depressing thought, so I decided that what my new grandchild needed was a time capsule.

I've started collecting things from 2005 and placed them in a special trunk. At year's end, I will include the story behind them and a bit of family history. Then the capsule will be locked and put away until 2020.

In 15 years it will make an unusual birthday present and a new way to connect with a teenager. If my grandchild doesn't have an attic to explore, at least there will be this treasure chest of solid memories.

Who can imagine how dated these objects will seem then? Only 15 years ago, portable phones came with a battery the size and weight of a brick, e-mail was in its infancy, and digital photography was a high-end, experimental way to capture images. If anyone had proposed a phone that could take pictures and also be carried in one's pocket, a common response would have been: "Not in my lifetime!"

I can't predict the future, so I'll try to preserve a piece of the past. In this throw-away world, I hope my time capsule will motivate my grandchild to hang on to some tangible things. Otherwise, all our memories will be transformed into pixels and disappear into a virtual world where nothing can be held or touched.

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