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My Stories

The 1999 Time Capsule | December 30, 2020

For those old enough to remember, 1999 was a year full of anxiety as well as awe as the  peoples of the world contemplated the beginning of a new millennium.


Would the year 2000 lead us to oblivion or to a better world?


Selfishly, I remember being happy that I would have less to correct on tests where my French and Spanish college students were required to spell out the year.  After all, two thousand, in French deux mille, is so much easier than mil neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix-neuf for nineteen ninety-nine.  It is easier as well in Spanish. Two thousand is dos mil rather than the cumbersome mil novecientos noventa y nueve.


While I enjoyed this simple pleasure, some embraced the possibility of a renaissance of all that is good in humanity as if the collective sins of nations  could be washed away when our respective world time zones moved us into the year 2000.  The Age of Aquarius. Meditating yogis. Alternative medicine. Conservation.  All were dominant themes in 1999.


Still others braced themselves for the end in some cataclysmic financial destruction of the modern society we had all come to know.  The Y2K Bug was a computer flaw that many thought could cause problems when dealing with dates beyond December 31, 1999. (   Thankfully, this disaster never materialized...


Further complicating the millennial existential dilemma, people took sides as to whether the millennium began on January 1st, 2000 or January 1st, 2001.  ( The controversy was a topic of conversation at dinners, bars, parties, and was a preferred theme for term papers in philosophy classes.


In what psychologists call the human brain’s predisposition to highlight big, round numbers, the countries of the world decided that the beginning of the millennium was January 1st, 2000.  I remember watching many of the televised worldwide extravagant and culturally themed celebrations as the clock struck midnight and each country welcomed the new year.


I and my two other siblings and their families succumbed to the appeal of the classic case of round number bias and planned a New Year’s Eve party at my sister’s home in a suburb of Chicago on December 31st, 1999 overruling our brother’s constant reminder that we were a year too early for such a celebration. Still, even he eventually got into the spirit of things as we asked my son-in-law to build some sort of time capsule for each of our three families which we would bury in my sister’s back yard for twenty years, leaving something representative of 1999 inside.


As planned, the capsules were dug up at the end December, 2019 but our hoped for get together to collectively see what treasures each of us had left in our containers did not materialize. Life had moved my nuclear group from the Chicago, Illinois area to northeast Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana.  Then the COVID19 pandemic kept us from being able to get together until December of 2020 for the grand opening.

As excited as we adults were to see what each of us had left in our capsules twenty years earlier, it was nothing compared to the anticipation of the five grandchildren born in that time frame who now saw the capsule as a mysterious family treasure chest.


However, reality seldom matches our imagination, and our experience with this event proved to be such a case in point.

Time Capsule

As we gathered in my older daughter’s backyard deck by a wonderful warm fire from their chimenea, my two sons-in-law struggled with a huge wrench to twist off the cap that sealed the capsule.  The cap did not budge with the ease that we all expected.


After about thirty minutes of trying to muscle the cap open, between laughter and frustration, everyone had an opinion about the situation. The grandchildren worried that it wouldn’t open at all, denying them the treasures inside.  I was fearful the utility wrench would fly out of one of my sons-in-law’s hands and hit someone causing a concussion. My older daughter wanted to lather the top of the capsule in oil to ease opening. The Rottweiler ran back and forth in excitement at the commotion in his backyard.


In this brief hiatus during which we all contemplated next steps, my younger daughter and the son-in-law who created the capsule said that the stubborn cap’s refusal to open was a sign that the past should be left in the past.  In hindsight, we should have listened to this very wise suggestion.

Had we let the capsule be, we would all still have our own romanticized idea of what lay inside the twenty-year-old time capsule just as in Schrödinger’s thought experiment, the cat in the box can be considered both alive and dead until the box is actually opened.


In the case of our 1999 family time capsule, what we found inside much to our surprise…


Hmmm. I should not give away family secrets.  Anyone interested will have to ask each of us personally.  Let’s just say that we should have left the past in the past.

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