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Random first line writing prompt from Writing Exercises: She knelt on the carpet in her new living-room, a big cardboard box in front of her, unwrapping ornaments… Set your timer for 30 minutes and write.

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Santa Christmas ornamentShe knelt on the carpet in her new living-room, a big cardboard box in front of her, unwrapping ornaments. They weren’t her ornaments; it was a box labeled Christmas that she’d found in her mother’s attic. Cleaning out her parents’ home after her mother, Marie, had passed away four months ago was one of the hardest things, she’d ever done. Her mother’s passing was unexpected and devastating. And there she was, an only child faced with the entire responsibility, her father having died eight years ago.

Thank God for Anne Alford, the organizational professional she had called in to help. Without her it would have taken a year to go through it all. But Anne knew exactly which things to keep, which to let go of, and which were trash. Their friendship had developed quickly. It wasn’t surprising. Losing her mother had left a void in Sarah’s life. Though Anne was a bit younger than Sarah’s mother, here was someone who could help fill that hole.

It had been Anne who had mentored her in this new life she’d begun. Pushed her to buy this condo and helped her learn to stand on her own two feet. She’d spent hours with Sarah organizing bills and sorting out legal paper work. Now Anne called every week, and often they’d grab lunch. It was like having a mother all over again. Or at least extended family, which was in short supply since her father’s siblings were both gone and her mother had been an only child.

And now here she was, kneeling in front of a box of Christmas ornaments she’d never seen in her 32 years. She crossed her legs to sit Indian style on the plush tan carpet and took the ornaments out one-by-one. They must have been nearly 50 years old, but they’d been wrapped so carefully they were in remarkable condition. She’d seen these kinds of ornaments before. In fact, her mother had displayed a varied collection of them on their trees at Christmas when Sarah was growing up.

But they had been generic knockoffs. Even she could tell that after handling the wrapped ones. These were the real deal, stamped with the brand Lauscha for Lauscha, Germany where the hand-blown glass ornaments where first made in 1550. Her mother had told her that. Here were Santa Claus faces, snowmen, sleds, owls, candy canes, pine cones, peppermint candies, clusters of grapes, round bulbs, and even icicles. Some of them were frosted with white fuzzy material that felt like velvet. All of them were still bright and shiny. She wondered why her mother had never gotten them out and displayed them. They must be worth a small fortune.

Sarah had removed all the ornaments from the box, but it wasn’t empty. In the bottom was a photograph album, it’s brown leather cover was battered at the corners, its black pages coming loose from the ties that held it together. Fascinated, she pulled the big album onto her lap and began turning pages. It was obvious the pictures weren’t taken anywhere in the US. The architecture was too old. In fact, one of them she recognized. It was the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. She’d just read an article about the fall of the Berlin wall in Smithsonian magazine. There were pictures of the gate It was the only gate left that had separated the city of Berlin.

Totally caught up with the album, a story was emerging from its pages, the story of a family. A father, mother, three sons, and two daughters. The date on the back of each pictures was the same, April 21, 1928. Apparently it had been a family vacation. On the last page of the album was a picture of the sisters sitting together on a bench. Sarah loosened it from the black photo edge holders to get a better look. They must have been relatives of her mother’s. Perhaps they had sent her the collectible ornaments.

But as she gazed more closely, a shock began at her finger tips, ran up her arms, and tickled her whole body. She was looking at her mother! She flipped back through the pages comparing picture after picture. She was certain. She turned the closeup over and looked at the inscription on the back. Ilse Marie and Frida Anne, Berlin, 1928. Ilse? She had only ever known her mother by the name Marie. But here she was in black and white, literally. Why on earth had she never told Sarah that her family was from Germany? She must have known, for here was the proof.

She’d been staring at the picture of her mother for so long she’d barely registered the young girl beside her. She read the second name. Frida Anne. Turning the picture over again, she stared at the second woman. That’s when she saw it, a small mole nearly hidden in the shadows that fell across the girl’s face. A face that Sarah knew as well.

She hurried to the back bedroom and laid the album on her desk. Shuffling through the file drawer she found the folder holding her bills. There it was. The invoice. Sarah looked at the printed signature in the logo. Oh my God! She picked up the phone and dialed the number from memory. Frida Anne Alford had an awful lot to explain.