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.