Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Short Story: Time Capsule

Angela and Sam had heard that their great grandparents had buried a time capsule near their farmhouse shortly after they had arrived in Alberta to farm land near Athabasca at Meanook. They had often joked about it, suggesting it would contain some of grandad’s favourite sausages or a pair of corsets which grandma had insisted on wearing for church, despite the pain they caused when kneeling.

But Angela and Sam were now not so sure that the contents would be quite so frivolous. After all, their grandparents had a strong reputation and a passion for history in Athabasca, having both been keen supporters of the town becoming the capital of Alberta. Maybe, figured Sam, a time capsule might contain something of value.

But where to look. Given that site of the farmhouse had changed three times since the first farm was built in 1903, the time capsule could be anywhere. It was speculation that it would still be around. If Angela and Sam had learnt anything from their grandparents, it was that Albertans who have an idea don’t easily give up. "If you really think you can do something, then Alberta is one of the few places where you will be encouraged to try and try again." said grandma. "Farmers cant give up," grandpa had always said, "'they have the land to nourish – you cant give up on the land!".

Angela had been to the Athabasca library and found some old maps. Sam borrowed a metal detector from a friend who used it on beeches to fund his Starbucks habit. Between them, Sam and Angela narrowed the options - under a tall spruce or under a large flat paving stone near which the family thought used to be at the front of the first farm house.

They used the metal detector near the tree. Almost as soon as they got the hand of it, it burst into life. They dug down, careful to make sure they didn’t get too rough with the area – they didn’t want to damage anything. They found a few coins and part of an old hoe. No sign of a box, tube or capsule.

Next they worked to lift the large, flat paving stone. Underneath was a web of ant trails, worm holes and beetle lava. “We’ve just lifted the lid on a village,” said Sara. They dug directly in the square left by the flat stone, being careful not to rush the work.

Now they were stuck. Where else could they look ? Angela and Sam walked to the place on the farm which the family always used as a place of reflection – a place for contemplation, sharing – a place where difficult conversations took place. It was on a corner of their land, in a wooded area at a place where two creeks met. Two paths also crossed at this point, and there was a beautiful view of the creek. It was a place where one could be at one with nature.

Angela sat quietly, thinking about their great grandparents and their life a hundred years ago, just as the Province of Alberta was founded. “Tough”, “rugged” and “demanding” were words that came to mind. She also always thought of “compassion”, “caring” and “commitment” when she thought of her family.

Her quiet reverie was interrupted by Sam. “How long has this place been the family’s special place?”, he asked. “Forever!” Angela replied. “Isn’t this a place for a time capsule? Isn’t this a place where a family might want to reflect on the future and the past?,” asked Sam. Suddenly they were both excited. Together they searched the area, looking for an obvious place. At the corner of a part of the land that jutted out just at the point where one creek joined the other there was a post, and it was always known as the “look out” – a place where grandpa Heskton had said the old joins with the new. Almost as soon as they started, their metal detector became both loud and difficult to handle – vibrating, as if with excitement. They dug carefully and, around two feet down, found a metal box, rusted and battered, about the size of medium sized tool box.

“Lets open it right here,” said Sam in that voice he had at Christmas when the presents were arrayed under the tree. “No, lets wait until we get back to the house – then we can make sure everything in the box is looked after properly”, said Angela. “You never know, there may be lots of things in here which we need to make sure don’t get lost in the grass or fall down the embankment. We need to be careful.”

They took the box home and proudly placed it on newspapers on the kitchen table. The box had a small rusted lock which was easy to remove. The lid took some time to prise off and inside there was a a faded newspaper wrapping several things. Sam was very excited, but as always it was Angela who was cautious, careful and very deliberate – “we don’t want to damage anything now, do we Sam!” she said, sounding like her grandmother.

The first object they took out was the faded newspaper – an original describing the creation of Alberta as a Canadian Province. There was some lace with a small note in great grandma’s spidery handwriting, saying that it was from her wedding dress. There was some feathers, which a note attached indicating that they were from a Cree Indian head-dress. The most significant thing in the box was a metal canister, which they had difficulty opening. When they did they were amazed. It contained gold nuggets – twelve of them.

“Wow!” exclaimed Sam “we’re rich!”.
“Not so fast,” said their father. “We need to think about this, but it is very interesting, very interesting indeed”.

Over the next few days, the gold was a major topic of conversation in the Heskton household. Michael, Sam and Angela’s father, took the gold to Edmonton to be valued. When he returned the family gathered around him and waited for him to speak.

“Well,” he began “we already owe a lot to Tom and Hilda and now we owe them even more.” He looked at each of them around the table and nodded, a sign that what he was about to say was important.

“The gold you found was twenty nine ounces. More importantly, it was very pure “some of the best gold I’ve seen in a long time” said the expert I talked to. An ounce of gold is worth $450 an ounce – that’s a lot of money. You dug up $13,000 worth of gold.” The family sat silently for a few seconds, before Sam asked the question on all of their minds “what are we going to do with that money then?”.

Mother spoke first. “The money you found will be for your future – for your education. We can make sure its protected for you and it will grow, so that when you need it for tuition, books and things it will be there”.

Sam looked disappointed. The new mountain bike, the plasma screen TV, the big iPod – all of his dreams were gone and replaced by a bank book. Angela, however, was delighted. Her fear of not being able to go to University had suddenly disappeared. “I guess great grandma and granddad knew what they were doing,” observed Angela. “I am sure they did,” her mum replied.

[Submitted to Alberta Anthology - They required it to relate to the Alberta centennial in some way....]

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