I often notice these boxes in front of Fair Oaks Cigars. I really should go in sometime. I don’t smoke cigars but I’m fascinated by cigar culture — mostly because it’s so contrary. (Smoking is rebellious enough in our nonsmoking era, but smoking stogies is so counterculture it’s borderline punk rock.) And yet it’s quaint. Smoking cigars is something people did in old black and white movies, something out of a time capsule…
Which is the real reason these boxes intrigue me. When I was 12 years old my best friend Sally had the great idea of making a time capsule. It was 1976, and Bicentennial fever had reached epidemic proportions. When the official Bicentennial American Freedom Train rolled through my hometown the hoopla was so big you’d have thought the government reanimated Abraham Lincoln to wave from the caboose. The thing was massive: a huge steam locomotive pulling twenty six train cars filled with American artifacts. George Washington’s copy of the Constitution was in there. So was Judy Garland’s little gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz.
“Are you going to the Freedom Train?” My classmate David was the first to ask me. He had recently gotten extra credit in history for making a poster entitled 200 Years of Texas Agriculture. It featured a map of the state showing crops of every region. The little cotton balls glued along the southern coast were a nice touch.
“My dad is letting me miss school,” our friend Ralph said. “We’re going to camp out.”
“I’m going to sneak in my Polaroid,” Diane said. She sat at the desk behind me and worked on the school paper. “They say you can’t take pictures, but this is too important not to capture on film.”
“Who cares about a bunch of old junk?” Sally said. “I mean really,” she said, “so they have Betsy Ross’s thimble and some moldy popcorn from the first Thanksgiving? Big deal. We could make our own time capsule and bury it in my back yard.”
And so we did. We took one of her father’s cigar boxes and filled it with our own artifacts. I don’t remember everything, but I know there was a Tiger Beat magazine featuring Lief Garrett, a rock with a happy face drawn on it, a package of Chicklets Sally swiped from her mom’s purse, the comics section of the newspaper and a cassette tape of the two of us singing a couple of songs: America the Beautiful followed by Rock and Roll All Nite.
I never did make it out to see the Freedom Train, but I still felt like I was a part of something historic.
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