by K Roberts
They dug up the time capsule ahead of schedule. Loganville High needed a new gym, so the statue of our mascot, Jersey Jerry, was uprooted along with the southeast parking lot and a laptop-sized locked metal box intended to be buried for a century.
The treasure chest had lasted 52 years, and I’d made it to age 59 and a job with the school district. Not a bad outcome for the replacement kid, the perennial softball team bench warmer I’d been.
When my coworkers drew straws to see who’d spend an afternoon dawdling during the speeches and herding news photographers, I volunteered to go. I had a personal interest in the ceremony, and I was curious.
Given an opportunity to create a bit of local history, to preserve and immortalize the experiences of your graduating class, what would you have packed in the box? A poster of a personal hero from the walls of your bedroom? A necktie with a snazzy print? Tickets from a popular movie?
I should have started an office betting pool – it would have been fun to see if any guesses matched the students’ choices.
Loganville’s student council had crowd-sourced the task. Their committee selected 15 graduating seniors, distributing manila envelopes with instructions to return them before finals week. One envelope went to my older brother Bob. The names were supposedly drawn at random, but he was dating a committee member, and that probably factored into it. He’d dropped his contribution off the morning my father drove him to the recruiting office. It was, after all, 1970, and the draft lottery was still in effect.
I had an extended wait until my brother’s packet was opened. I wasn’t in a hurry. When your family name is at the end of the alphabet, you get accustomed to being the last person in line.
The onlookers in the crowd were past their varsity years, like me. Blame the rain or lack of interest; when you’re a teenager, the history of the world consists of two years in the past, and the future is the next two years ahead. The youngest person in the room was the current senior class student body president, who was acting as emcee.
Nothing pulled from the envelopes was a surprise, really. What seemed odd to me was what wasn’t included. No toys at all, no Barbie dolls, and not one baseball card. A Reggie Jackson rookie-year card would have been worth several thousand dollars today – a treasure in the treasure chest. But I wouldn’t have donated my player cards either. My teenage obsessions were trading those cards, and playing early video game cartridges, which didn’t appear until later in the decade. Both my collections have long since vanished.
What’s left from your high school years, come to think of it? A yearbook photo, a grade report, a birthday card?
There weren’t any images of Earth from space, though the first moon landing took place the previous July. No mentions of moon landing hoaxes. Nothing about the 1968 Summer Olympics, the shootings at Kent State, love bead necklaces, or peace sign medallions. Not one controversial item. It was as if the amateur historians were living outside of their historical era. Someone did save a clipping from a sports magazine about the NBA playoffs being televised nationally for the first time. (The New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers.)
I expected at least one 45-rpm vinyl single by the Guess Who, James Brown, or Sly and the Family Stone. Perhaps the Fifth Dimension, singing a song from the musical Hair. But most students opted for something unbreakable, flat, and easy to fold.
There were covers torn from TV Guide magazine featuring the Brady Bunch, the cast of Hee Haw, and Chet Huntley, who planned to retire as anchorman of the national news later that year. A programming grid from a local newspaper listed a week’s worth of shows kids today might recognize – Bonanza, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. There were no photographs of actors who won Oscars that April. It might have made for an ironic moment, hearing the winning names, John Wayne and Maggie Smith, read again in front of an audience.
The next-to-last envelope contained a set of perforated paper disks labeled “Grand Canyon,” and “Empire State Building” – American landmarks you’d see when traveling. Each disk had thumbnail-shaped pieces of celluloid film attached around the rim. It took a few minutes before someone shouted, “Viewmaster!” The disks were made to fit into portable 3-D goggles – a pre-Internet technology as scarce today as fossils. In another 50 years, would anyone remember what they were?
Finally “Bob Young” was called. I leaned forward. The pouch he’d filled was about fourteen inches long, unsealed, the kind that closes by winding a string around two pegs. You could hear a rattling sound as the emcee opened it.
My late brother’s legacy was a dozen dried-up pieces of pink bubble gum, individually wrapped. He used to buy them for a penny each at a gas station. Bazooka brand, from Topps; their selling point was that each package contained a wax paper insert, with a cartoon printed in primary colors.
A perplexed look crossed the face of the student emcee. He peered into the envelope, tilted it upside down, and shook it. A square of yellow carbon paper about the size of my palm wafted loose. I managed to catch it before it could reach the floor and get trampled on by a shoe.
I’d hoped for something profound from Bob, who my parents always called our family philosopher. A copy of Kipling’s poem “If,” a Zen koan, a quote from Alan Watts or Ram Dass, or a sliver of wisdom saved from a restaurant’s fortune cookie at the very least.
But what he’d left us was a pre-printed business form, the customer’s copy of a dry-cleaning receipt. On the reverse side Bob, the Hemingway enthusiast, had penciled exactly six words:
“Tuxedo. Rented for the senior prom.”
Five old bottles against the windowpane in winter
by Jim Ross
K Roberts is a professional non-fiction writer, a published artist, and a first reader for the magazine Nunum. Previous stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, Words & Sports Quarterly, and Club Plum.
Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after rewarding research career. He’s since published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, photography, plays, and hybrid in 175 journals on five continents. Publications include Burningword, Columbia Journal, Hippocampus, Kestrel, Newfound, Stonecoast, The Atlantic, The Ignatian, Typehouse. Jim and family split time between city and mountains.