Old Bottles, Time Capsules, and Going Home

 Walking into the backyard this weekend, I was intrigued to see my thirteen-year-old kneeling under the grapefruit tree, digging. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m planting a time capsule,” she said.

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I smiled at the word “planting.”  It seemed a contrast to the idea that what goes into a time capsule emerges the same as it went in—and only our perceptions of it telescope back in time when we open the capsule.  That the growth is within and around us, while the capsule has remained the same—seems counter what the plants, birds and children above ground do for the years the capsule lies undisturbed.

On telescoping back in time–over Veteran’s Day I took my girls home to Western New York with me. Those of you who regularly read this blog may have caught on to that.

While home, my family and I took the girls to Niagara Falls, The Hacienda—a Spanish-themed Italian pizza place that tastes almost as good as when I was in high school (memory is such isn’t it?)—our family church, our pond, and lastly to a ramshackle, caving-in shed at the edge of the hillside.

The shed still captures my imagination. I’m not sure why.

Was it because it was an attachment to my parents’ first domicile—a trailer? Because it was one of the first places I ventured on my own out of the house? Because, I could hide there and pretend to keep house? Was it the treasures of my parents’ early years: a homemade baby changing table, my deceased grandfather’s fishing poles, his handmade toolbox, a crate of snub-topped glass milk jugs? Through my explorative and moody teen years, I added other artifacts: the rake my collie chewed, (afraid would anger my father more than its disappearance–which could be silently left to blame on passing workers, the wind), and, my favorite—a collection of bottles I’d dug from the hillside, where generations of my family had discarded or burned trash.


The bottles still intrigue me. So much that I waded into the derelict structure—yes, just after recovering from knee surgery. (So, common sense doesn’t always prevail… .) Poking with a stick to find the trusses underneath abandoned raccoon nesting and leaves fallen through the rafters, I balanced on one truss then another until I came the toolbox on which I sat. From there I could reach for the bottles slipping off a table fallen partly through the rotting floor.

So once again, the once-discarded bottles I’d rescued as a girl, were rescued.  A clear pressed glass bank in the shape of a bear, its rusty top still usable. White and blue Vaseline jars. Small green and brown medicine bottles—some plain, others with raised lines and words—and my favorite—Milk of Magnesia bottles—their signature cobalt—once a beacon glowing from the forested hillside. A find that made the pulse quicken a little. Why?

What was it? The rare color?  The unlikelihood of finding one of these intact? Let alone one with its signature raised block lettering? Wondering which great grand-aunt, -uncle or -grandparent had soothed their stomach with this medicine, reaching for it above the sink or on its shelf?


Humans, like ravens seem to be drawn to collecting. I’m not sure it matters what, but we seem to be beset by the need to line our next with baubles. Is it to remember? Is it the excitement of the find? Is it our fear of forgetting or being forgotten?

I’m glad I was able to share that fleeting moment in the collapsing shed with my oldest daughter and her cousin. My daughter laughed at me balancing on the wobbly trusses, reaching for artifacts discarded before our time. For a moment, we touched a new place in time.  For a few moments we shared that space, those laughs.  All those adolescent hours I searched for bottles and understanding of myself, could I have imagined that I’d share my life with someone like her? Someone so much like me? And yet, so different? No. I could not have imagined it.  Hopefully my memory of myself at that age and my perspective at this age, and my desire to do right by her make me the parent I need to be.

What would she remember of this trip? Her time with her grandparents and her cousins? What kind of memories would her brain sift, sort and plant in her heart?

As I write this today, I can’t wait until my younger daughter returns from school, so I can ask her what she might have put in her time capsule she was trying to bury this weekend. You see, I forgot. I got distracted by the phone, the dishes, the things mothers do while their children dig in the dirt. But, I hope to solidify the image of her on her hands and knees digging deep in the dirt in my memory bank. At thirteen, how many more times will she do this with the freeness of a little girl? It was a rare backwards glimpse.

Something worth preserving.

Have you kept a time capsule? Have you opened it yet? What was in it? How did it feel to explore your past? What memories have you kept close to your heart? How do you try to preserve important moments?

17 thoughts on “Old Bottles, Time Capsules, and Going Home

  1. Years and years ago, I visited (trespassed) at my grandparents’ lake house. I was fairly sure it hadn’t been sold yet, but I was amazed to see all of our (the grandchildren) fishing poles were still in the shed. I was transfixed at the sight of my own, and the poles flanking mine, which belonged to my older and younger cousin. I was angry at first, that no one asked us if we wanted our poles! Then I rationalized that I would not, as an adult, enjoy fishing with my two-foot wooden mallard pole, and that someone’s child would. Every time I see a mallard, I think of that pole, and I wish I had “stolen” it.


  2. I truly enjoy your style of writing, your choice of words, how descriptive you are – it reads like a great storybook. I think I buried a school lunchbox once. I’ll be 47 in December for some perspective of what type of lunch boxes I’m speaking of. I don’t recall what I put in it or where I buried it. I live far away from my childhood areas. Great read – thank you.


    • Thank you for stopping by. Love the image of the buried lunch box. I wonder how many of them exist… or have rusted through, roots and time reaching for their contents. We are about the same age. I had a–gulp–Donny Osmond box… or Osmonds… purple with the singers and white star bursts all over it. Thanks for the memory!


  3. Little things that mean a lot to me at the time, are the things I tend to have trouble parting with. Maybe I worry that I can’t keep all the memories in my head and the mementos help to remind me and bring me an extra moment of unexpected happiness later on. I have a really hard time throwing out these little items (cards, pictures, notebooks, etc.)


  4. Beautiful bottles. I think our family time capsules are journals. We all have so many. The pages are yellowed, wrinkled, stuck together, and sometime illegible, but they say something even when we can’t read them.


  5. Renee, beautiful post. As you can imagine, just my cuppa ;). The circle of your memories and experiences and your daughter’s. I love the bottles, the shed, the time capsule (reminding me of the “treasure” Karen and I buried haha), your lovely writing and ability to investigate meaning as you describe.


    • Luanne – thank you. I spent so much time in sheds, on hillsides and in the woods as a kid, I sometimes still crave it. It’s strange to go back–time stands still and eclipses all at once. It’s a mind…er…blowing experience sometimes. I wonder how many treasure/time capsules get found/unearthed on purpose or accidentally through the years? Do you remember what was in yours?


  6. Many years ago my father took the three of us on a drive out to where he used to live as a boy, on a farm. The house was gone but he could still tell where it had been. There was an ancient apple tree and he remembered eating the fruit. I can still feel the magic of that day, as Dad relived a part of his childhood.


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