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  • In the living room of their ranch house in Birmingham, Alabama, my grandparents kept a letter from Thomas Jefferson. It was stuffed in a bureau drawer along with old report cards, photo albums, receipts and cancelled checks, yellowed handkerchiefs, carefully folded state maps, mismatched dice and dead batteries. I discovered it after Pop died.

    My mom, sister, aunt and I were sorting through mounds of papers and paperwork - his personal effects. I was squatting on the carpet in the living room, dividing paper and small objects into piles


    When he died I discovered that death makes the snowglobe of a person's life get real still. The white flecks are deactivated. They sink to the bottom and stay. The water clears and you get a good long look at what is captured inside.

    "Oh, yeah," mom said. "I used to take that in for show and tell at school." I envisioned her walking to elementary school with the envelope in her lunch sack or tucked inside a book clutched upside down by a childish grubby hand.

    "Me, too," said my aunt. "Can I see that? Hand it over." She stubbed out her cigarette.

    I passed it over the coffee table. "Shouldn't we donate it to someone somewhere? Call an archivist? I mean, this is a letter asking for some time to pay off a debt. Like lay-away. From a big time president. While he was in office. With the original envelope." I paused and looked at my aunt who had lit a new menthol cigarette and was holding the letter up to her glasses.

    "How did we get this anyway?" I reached for the letter again.

    "Oh, it was sent to a relative on my side of the family," Granny answered from the kitchen. "How about Chik-Fil-A for lunch? Everyone likes a chicken sandwich. And I have Pepsi in the fridge."
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