Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time in a Briefcase

Ever since my children can remember, there has been a locked briefcase in the house. Each time they rediscovered it tucked away on a closet shelf, they pulled it down and spun its lock wheels, trying countless  combinations, always in vain. Over time, it had became one of the most excruciating mysteries of their young lives. Years ago, my daughter dubbed it 'The Briefcase That Would Not Open.'

The black leather case was rather heavy. When one side was lifted higher than the other, the contents slid against the end with a suspicious thud. The kids' imaginations were wild with speculation. What could be inside?

I knew the briefcase was a remnant of the days my husband and I lived and worked in Central Africa. It had carried important documents while we traveled. That was circa 1996, three years before our oldest child was born. A dual combination lock system required two three-digit codes to open the case. We'd wracked our brains, but neither my husband nor I could remember the codes. This maddened our children.

Two days ago, daughter Sidney spied the briefcase in its dusty corner. Her passion for opening the case appeared more emphatic than usual, if that was possible. She pressed her father to remember the combinations. And one of us said something that turned a key in hubby's brain. He looked at me with large eyes and said to the kids, "Try Mama's birthday."

1-0-0 on the left and 3-6-6 on the right. It didn't work. The kids' shoulders slumped.

But wait! In France, a date is expressed with the day of the month first, and then the month followed by the year. So the French would write October 3, 1966 as 03/10/66.... When the kids spun the wheels again and set the combination to 0-3-1 on the left and 0-6-6 on the right....the mechanism sprang open. They were in!

We have all really enjoyed discovering the briefcase contents.

Most exciting for the kids were the dinosaur-models laptop computer and printer. The Olivetti is a whooping 2.5 inches thick and weighs about 8 lbs. It runs Windows 97 on MS-DOS. But the kids don't care. Luckily we had a converter on hand and were able to plug the battery charger into the wall socket. I was surprised that a fifteen-year-old-plus computer actually powered up! The keyboard is French, so certain letter keys are in different places and automatically type the accents over the letters, when applicable. The kids are fascinated by it.

Also in the case were documents that reminded us of the lives we were living back in the mid-90s. There were several telephone cards. These cards, we explained to the children, one bought at le Tabac (newspaper vendor's shop) to use in French public telephones back before everyone had cell phones. We found letters we'd received from family and friends in the States, including one from a friend telling me about a bike trip around the perimeter of the US that he was planning to take. In the letter, he mentions a mutual friend of ours was joining him for one leg of the trip. That trip would go on to spark a romance between the two. Today they are married and have a son.

The Briefcase That Would Not Open turned out to be an unexpected time capsule.

This discovery gave us a wonderful project idea. We're going to create a family time capsule!

Each of us is going to contribute several items to the time capsule. We want to include things that represent who we are as individuals in 2012. What are our passions? What makes us tick? Sidney wants to write a letter to her future self. Brilliant!! (I think I'll do that too.)

We also plan to add photos of ourselves. We'll put in our favorite recipes ('cause food is very important to us and we all cook together), and mementos from our family vacations and everyday life.

We won't bury our time capsule in the backyard, for a very simple reason: I don't plan to be in this house for the long term. We'll seal up the capsule and put it in the corner, maybe that dusty corner where The Briefcase That Would Not Open once occupied.

Twenty-five years from now, no matter where in the world we are, the four of us will come together for a family vacation to open the time capsule. I imagine Cody and Sidney with their spouses and children, explaining the significance of the items they put inside as children. Once again, life will be a representation in stories, many significant moments in time. Thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

We can't wait to get started!

Have you ever contributed to a time capsule? Has it been opened? I'd love to hear your stories!