A Time Capsule in the Driveway

It would have been a good day if I hadn’t decided to clean out my parents’ van—a time capsule from two years ago

The van with the electric lift for my sister Annie, sits in my parents’ drive, its tire flat and battery dead. I don’t think it’s been driven except for a handful of times since Annie died. It really was her vehicle. They got it in 1993 to be able to take her places in her wheelchair once the electric lift was installed.

And they did go places. They went to their cottage on a lake. My dad spent lazy afternoons on his pontoon boat, fishing, and my mom enjoyed the change of scene with the view of the lake from the windows of the cottage, where she kept Annie company and read books, or worked crossword puzzles.

My parents, with Annie, drove the hour to our house when we were celebrating our children’s graduations or a bridal shower for my daughter-in-law.

They drove to my sister’s when she held a birthday party or mother’s day celebration.

They drove to church every Sunday, with Annie in her chair, it securely fastened to the floor of the van.

I opened the door of the van today, climbed into the driver’s seat, and felt like I had entered a time capsule. I was assaulted by the pent-up, locked away mementos of the time before, like a blast of too strong and too heavy perfume. Overdone. Stifling. Nearly suffocating.

A half-full plastic bag contained trash—an empty French-fries carton, a few discarded receipts, one from Arby’s a year ago June. Probably one of the last times they drove with Annie anywhere, before she got sick.

I think the eighteen dimes in the spring-loaded coin holder on the sun visor was the first thing that got to me. I imagined my dad patiently putting his coins away when he was still able to drive, when he was still able to buy thing for himself and get change.

I found a half-empty 15-stick package of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum in the glove compartment. Does Dad even chew gum anymore? I haven’t seen him. Maybe no one has thought to ask, and he can no longer can help himself to it. Or maybe like knives, he can’t be trusted with gum. So many things are dangerous, or just messy, now that his Alzheimer’s is progressing.

By now, nearly two years after Annie’s death, Mom has cleared away from Annie’s room most of the reminders left behind, but not so for the van. A little electric bottle warmer lay discarded on the floor, behind the driver’s seat. They must have used it to warm Annie’s baby food when they were away from home.

At first, I put the audiotapes of Disney songs about princesses, and the country music that Annie loved, in the “save” bag. But after thinking it through, I moved them to the trash bag. These tapes are not going to make anybody in this house happy to hear.

I tried to remain detached, as my pragmatic sister Kathy would. In my mind I could hear her say, “Just do what you have to do, Christine.” And if we’re going to sell this van, this is what we have to do.

I know if I stop to hold onto the items I’m finding in the pouches behind the seats or in the doors, if I stop to dwell on who put them there, or why they landed in this abandoned time capsule, I might just crumble.

And I won’t crumble.

I put the yellow rubber rain suit with overalls and jacket into the “save” bag. I leave the fishing rods where they are, leaned at an angle against the wall of the van where Dad loaded them on his last fishing trip. I’ll have to do this later.

I’ve done enough for now.

We’ll change the tire, and charge the battery, and sell the van. No one needs a two-year time-capsule sitting in their drive, reminding them of yesterdays.

My dad and nephew JD are fishing at the cottage on Lake Loramie, in Ohio. Circa 1988.

You can read more stories about my father under the category My father’s story, and about my sister at the Annie category.

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Author: CMSmith

I enjoy reading, writing, gardening, photography, genealogy and travel. I have opinions about many things, but am trying to age gracefully and not continually tick people off with them. Sometimes I can’t help myself.

21 thoughts on “A Time Capsule in the Driveway”

  1. you are such a loving person.

    I hope you accept these hugs from me. You did hard and yet wonderful work today.

    When my father died….he left behind his old beat up pale blue truck. I made sure it was cleaned out and taken away (it was not salable) before I came back home. I knew it would be too hard for the rest of the family to do. And yes it was hard for me…but I thought…Dad would enjoy knowing someone was helped by his old pale blue truck. He loved to recycle and that was what I did.

    Someone will buy that van. Someone who needs it. Someone who will be able to build memories too.

  2. Thank you for sharing your feelings and pulling such sensitivity out of that “save” bag we call our memory.

  3. Wow, I had no idea of what you went through yesterday with the van. I hope it will sell quickly and easily. Thank you for taking care of all that. Love, Carol

    1. Well, you know how it is. My imagination can do me in sometimes. Mom was with me for a while. I wonder if it bothered her too, or not. She didn’t say anything.

      You could go get the fishing gear . . .

  4. This was so touching–thanks for sharing. I know exactly what you mean, though. It’s hard to go through a lost loved one’s things.

    1. Thanks. Actually my dad still lives, but in many ways because of his Alzheimer’s he is becoming more and more lost to us. It’s hard doing it this way.

  5. Christine, that is absolutely beautiful and so well written! I loved reading it, and know that if I’d been there, I’d have been having all those same feelings. You are a really strong person! Hugs, Julia

  6. Thanks for sharing, Christine. It’s hard to let go of “the past” . . . even knowing that we can hang on to the memories.

    When my MIL died, her house became a time capsule. Two years after she died, her purse still sat where she left it. Her clothes still hung in the closets. Her creams still perched on her dresser.

    It looked as if she’d just stepped out to go to the store and would return momentarily. Like the Disney tapes, seeing her stuff lying around did not make anyone happy, but they couldn’t bring themselves to do what you’ve done.

    Good for you. Peace.

    1. That must have been awful.

      Believe me, there is still a house full of things, especially in the basement where my dad did his wood-working and in the garage where he keeps some of his other tools.

      But as I said, he is still with us, sort of.

  7. I love your imagery of the ‘time capsule’ and so many things in life after one is gone is like that. My mom died three years ago now and when my sister and I went into her bedroom and through her things I think that is what it was like…everything as she left it. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  8. Christine, I am so moved by the depth of your love and pain that comes through in this post, and throughout your writings about your sister, and your family.

    Thank you for sharing that. Jerri

  9. Getting rid of this stuff is difficult because we feel like we are discarding remnants of the person. Like disposing part of their energy or soul which certainly must inhabit father’s tools for example. Pictures and a few special keep sakes are probably healthy and meaningful for us to keep and revere, but the rest of the stuff has to go. And go quickly I would suggest. The intangible essence of loved ones can never be out of our life’s experience and we focus on keeping and cherishing them. My parents live with me. They are both approaching 88. I am not looking forward to it. But reading your thoughts as well as creating mine helps me prepare and understand. On the other hand I may predecease them.

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