It’s strange the things you remember and strange what can call those memories to mind. My paternal grandmother died when I was fairly young, while I was still in single-digits if I recall correctly. While my parents went to the funeral in Iowa and helped my grandpa ready his house for sale, I stayed with my maternal grandparents and my aunt and uncle in Indiana for the week.
My parents brought back with them a small cabinet (hutch?) that had been in the family for ages. It had pictures and miscellaneous items in it. Of note in this treasure chest was my dad’s slide rule from his days at Devry Technical Institute in Chicago. There was also a small wooden puzzle, the kind with several various-shaped pieces that could fit together into a cube. There was even a trick pen.
The pen resembled an old fountain pen from the early 50s. You could place a cap-gun cap in it and then slide the pen cap back on. When an unsuspecting person pulled the cap off, there was a small “click” as the mousetrap-like arm snapped down on where the cap had been before it slid off. Maybe it had been more effective in a previous era.
As time went on, other things from our house merged into this collection. The hutch became the home of a couple of Rubik’s Cubes and one of those snake-like puzzle things that came out soon afterward. I seem to recall our Battleship game finding a home in there as well.
But the most mysterious and intriguing thing in this chest was easy to overlook. It sat in the top drawer usually toward the front left. I had to dig to find it, but once discovered, I would pull it out and contemplate the wonder of it.
It looked like a miniature representation of an old-fashioned doctor’s bag, except with exaggeratedly long handles. The handles could fold down to make a stand to hold the bag aloft, which seemed a reasonably handy innovation except that their length seemed too long to use for carrying the bag without dragging it on the ground. If squeezed properly, the handles could be removed and you could then use them to pry the bag open. It seems like it was a long time before I was enlightened as to the true nature and purpose of this trinket.
On various occasions, I recall digging it out of the drawer and sitting on the floor fiddling with it. I was mesmerized by its simplicity and perplexed by its mystery. I had no frame of reference for it. It could be a critical piece of some larger apparatus or a token for some sort of game. There were no clues. The “Made in USA” stamped into the side of it was of little help. Not knowing what it was, I always put it back when I was finished lest its absence get me into some sort of trouble.
As I said, I don’t really recall how long I lived with this enigma in the drawer of the hutch at the bottom of the stairs. I remember wishing I knew more. Was it the last surviving piece to some puzzle or game? My young mind deduced that it was not of recent origin since it was made entirely of metal with no plastic. I knew my dad’s Tonka trucks, that also came back from Iowa, were all metal while mine had at least some plastic. (His even had rubber tires.)
Eventually, and anticlimactically, the mystery was explained by my dad. It truly was junk drawer debris and not some smaller part of some long-forgotten anything. It was, quite simply, a device for holding sheets of paper together. A paper clip. A binder clip, to be precise.
This odd discovery of a single binder clip, isolated and without any context, sparked curiosity in my young mind, undoubtedly explaining my continued affinity for them decades later. I’m glad the rest of the world has also discovered the wonder of this simple device.
I try to never leave the house overnight without a few of them. They work well for holding hotel curtains together to keep that beam of light from falling across the pillow and disturbing my sleep.