"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Opening the Time Capsule

** Quick Note:  For those of you wondering about NaNoWriMo, I did succeed in writing 50,000 words of my novel during November.  (Yea!)  But I am currently too overwhelmed by the enormity of what I have accomplished and the enormity of what I have left to do to discuss it yet.  So instead, take a trip with me Back in Time.  (Click here for some appropriate background music by Huey Lewis and the News.)  

My crazy Cousin Kelley and I love the Back to the Future movies.  Love them.  I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve seen Marty McFly fill in with the band playing “Earth Angel” at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance or watched Biff get a mouthful of manure or laughed at Doc Brown’s great expression when the model car catches fire.  (Click here for 43 seconds of acting genius.)

But it wasn’t just the dreaminess of Michael J. Fox or the excitement of hoverboards and flying Deloreans that got to us.  It was the allure of time travel itself, in all its glory, with all its complications.  One of my favorite parts of the trilogy is actually at the end of the second (and, let’s face it, worst) movie.  Marty is in the year 1955.  He has just watched the Delorean (with Doc inside) get struck by lightning and vanish.  Then, a Western Union courier arrives and hands Marty a letter from Doc, who is in 1885.  They have been carrying the letter around for 70 years, waiting to deliver it at that exact moment in that exact location.  I always thought that was so cool and wished there were a way to do such a thing in real life. 

Well, in December of 2003, Cousin Kelley and I did the closest thing we could.  We made a time capsule to be sealed for ten years, and this Thanksgiving we opened it.  (We made it nine years and eleven months.  I say, close enough.)

Time is a strange thing.  Kelley and I have been anticipating opening this thing for almost a decade.  The first couple of years, we still remembered everything inside and swore we would never forget.  Then, all of a sudden, somewhere around year seven, the contents got a little fuzzy.  The mystery deepened, the excitement sharpened, and Cousin Kelley’s pleas to open it early grew more frequent.  I held her off.

[Side note:  During the ten years between time capsule creation and time capsule opening, Cousin Kelley moved to Florida and then back to Texas.  When she moved back, she called me and left a loooong emotional voicemail about how they had packed everything up and were just about to drive away when she remembered to check the attic one more time and, “Oh my God!  Guess what was up there?  Our time capsule!  I almost left it in Florida!  You should never have let me keep it!”  I called her back and told her the time capsule was at my parents’ house in Richardson where it had always been and that I was never crazy enough to let her keep it and that I had no idea what was in that box in her attic.]

We were silly in 2003.  We still are.  I like that you can see my 
Toonces the Driving Cat poster in the background of my photo.

By the time we opened the capsule (the real one), we only remembered a very few things about the night we made it and the contents inside.

Here's my Facebook post from two weeks ago:

Next week, while I'm visiting my family for Thanksgiving, Cousin Kelley and I will be opening the time capsule (a.k.a. the lunch box) that we buried (a.k.a. hid in the top of my parents' closet) ten years ago when she was 23 and I was 27. We know there are letters inside (some of which will NOT be mailed to the recipients even though we pinky-swore we would), and a roll of film (thank goodness some places still develop those) and a cassette tape (thank goodness my mom still has a player that works), but we don't remember anything else. I CAN'T WAIT!

So here’s the thing.  After ten years, we expected to be wrong about the future.  What we did not expect was to be so very wrong about the past.

-- The time capsule was not a lunch box.
-- There was no cassette tape inside.
-- Every photo on the roll of film was taken inside the house in the span of an hour or two.  (We’d been expecting crazy settings and late-night adventures.  Our younger selves really dropped the ball on that one.)
-- There were no letters inside except the ones to each other.  (This is still mind-boggling.  Both of us SWEAR that we wrote letters to our current boyfriends and promised to give them to the guys no matter what, and for the past six years or so we have been dreading re-reading those awful things and planning a bonfire to destroy them.  And yet… no letters.  We were so confused by this that, remembering the 70-year-old letter from Doc in Back to the Future Part II, I had a brief panic attack that maybe we had written them and somehow mailed them already to be delivered to the boys in 2013, but Cousin Kelley assures me that is impossible.  Whew!)

So what was in the box?  Well, now, it wouldn’t be fair to give everything away, would it?  But I’ll tell you a little bit.

Inside the box were memories—photos and journals and poems and wicked little reminders of a snapshot of time.  There were smiles in there, and laughs, and lies, and a song by David Bowie.  There was proof of how much people change and of how much more they stay the same.  Oh and our favorite t-shirts from 2003.  That was an awesome surprise.

Mine says, "Hark the herald dillos sing."
Kelley's says, "Those with class drive fiberglass."
It was 2003, people.

Inside that box was a reminder of how lucky I am to have a Cousin like Kelley.  Because the biggest thing that we forgot was the coolest thing to remember—The time capsule was a gift.  It was my birthday gift from Kelley in 2003.  She gave me a box (personalized with photos of us), and two “About Me” journals for each of us to fill out, and a roll of film, and a promise—to turn that box into a time capsule at Christmas and lock it up for ten years.  What an amazing gift.  What an amazing Cousin Kelley.


We want to do it again.  We will do it again.  But a little bit of time needs to pass first.  I’m thinking 2015 might be a good year for TC2.  Maybe October 21, 2015—the day Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future Part II.  That seems as appropriate a day as any.  We’ll have to get a box big enough to fit a hoverboard.

But we shouldn’t be the only ones enjoying the fun and mystery and excitement of the time capsule.  You should make one too.  :)

Carie and Kelley’s Ten Tips for Making a Time Capsule:

1. Choose a small container.  It may be harder to fill than you think.

2. You don’t have to bury it.  That sounds messy.  Just find a safe, permanent location, preferably not in the home of any of the capsule creators.  A safety deposit box might be good. 

3. Don’t do it alone.  Make your time capsule with a family member or group of friends and make sure everyone contributes.  That way the opening of it will also be a good excuse for a reunion in case your paths have parted.

4. Be patient.  Ten years is the minimum length for a good time capsule.  Kelley and I actually tried a one-year one when we were younger and it didn’t work—we remembered too much and not enough had changed.

5. Take photos of things you know will change.  We took pictures of our cell phones.  Quite a difference between 2003 and 2013.  What will our phones look like in 2023?

6. It’s ok to make promises.  And it’s ok to break some too.  If those letters to ex-boyfriends really had existed, we would NOT have kept our promises to mail them.  And that is ok.  (Here we are reading our letters to each other.  Those were a good idea!)


7. Plan for the future.  This time, Kelley and I were able to develop our film and, had there been a cassette tape, we could still listen to it, but ten years from now?  I’m not so sure.  Don’t let changes in technology ruin your big reveal.  Take pictures with your phone or camera, then go ahead and develop them and , for good measure, make a CD of them too.  Put the prints and CD in your time capsule and delete the photos from your camera.

8. Don’t try too hard.  Don’t agonize over what will be memorable.  Everything will be memorable.  Fill the time capsule with the little details of life.  A list of what you did that day, your regular routine.  The receipt from the coffee you bought.  The name of the last song you heard.

9. When it’s time to open the thing, plan ahead and make sure you and your group have some privacy.  You will not remember everything that is in that box.  You might think you will, but you won’t.  Best to open it away from prying eyes and children. 

10. A time capsule makes a great, low-cost, creative gift.  Consider giving someone you love the gift of time this Christmas!


  1. The link to the Youtube music was an excellent touch to a great blog post. Kudos, TBCD.

    1. Thanks, Bruce! I can't figure out what TBCD is though.