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Our daughter recently sent us a photograph of our ten-year-old granddaughter’s room, meticulously organized for school, with the caption, “All ready for fifth grade”. The proud mother wrote: “New drawers, filing cabinets, shelves, baskets, each labeled and ready to go for first day of school. Need a red pencil? It’s got its shelf. A blue sharpie? Its own bin. A ruler? A tape? A notebook? A stuffie? A book? A project from 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade? SHE’S GOT IT FILED!”

It was a marvel of total organization and non-clutter. I gasped. It's the “O” gene at work!
This amazingly organized, happily adjusted child has inherited from my husband - as he inherited from his father - the mysterious “O” gene. Short for orderliness, it protects against chaos, clutter and confusion by endowing its recipient with a happy penchant for organization and an easy ability to look on chaos, unflinchingly, and quickly create order.

Those of us bereft of this great gift can only look on in wonder.

My husband’s orderliness is perfect to my eyes, yet it is always in a state of becoming more perfect. One example should suffice. Our son, a happy non-inheritor of the “O” gene, teased his father that the pencils in his pencil box were not equidistant from each other. Hubby, playing along, corrected the oversight. Pencil staging symmetry has now been absorbed into the total “O” gene universe, over which the lucky inheritors peacefully reign.
I - blush to admit - favor my beloved father's, shall we say, less formal filing system. Dad would routinely drop items he deemed "a good idea to hang on to" into a large cardboard box which moved with us from home to home over a lifetime. The box held a bewildering assortment of "probably important items", yellowing with age. A trove of empty envelopes, loose bills, government documents, receipts, certificates, warranties, old photos and every postcard and letter ever received from anywhere in the world. Once so "filed" they were quickly forgotten, until a crisis erupted that required a document.

This precipitated a panicked and frenzied search for the item "that must be there". This could take several hours and required the participation of all family members. Drawn into confronting the world-of-chaos, a happy hysteria reigned.

Dad would empty the box onto the kitchen table, its contents sliding onto the floor. Everyone dove into a giggly search as Dad whispered a barrage of Russian expletives. Only years later would I learn what he was actually saying, much to my shock and then delight that my straight-laced father even knew such colorful language. When the missing item was found, a joyful chaotic celebration followed. Downing a large glass of schnapps, Dad mused about setting up a better filing system.

I remember when one such search located the final warning letter demanding payment of the thrice forgotten electric utility bill which Dad said he would pay immediately. Just as soon as we located the checkbook. Another rollicking seek-and-find adventure ensued. Another remission from the world-of-chaos! We all piled into the old Chevy and Dad sped us off to hand-deliver payment just hours before the power would be shut off.   
The crisis ended, plans for reorganization were postponed until we had "recovered from the ordeal". All items, it was once again decided, "ought to be hung on to". We scooped up the sacred collection and "temporarily" threw everything back into the box, and the box, once again familiarly bulging, was shoved back under the bed. And forgotten.

Over the years, admiring Hubby’s tranquil “O” ordered universe has reoriented me, as much as one not favored with the “O” gene could be. Still, I am my father's daughter, and if I need to find something, a mad search usually ensues.

But as I search, I remember lovingly my father's filing system, and my heart smiles.

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About the author

Annette Keen

Annette Keen is a freelance writer in upstate New York. She has been the editor of several magazines over the years, ranging from arts and culture to news and industry. She is also the text author ...

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