As my husband and I were finishing up weeks of sorting, recycling, and tossing many of our possessions and packing what was left, and the old house was nearly empty and we were days away from leaving a life of blown fuses, roof leaks, the chill from a broken furnace, and other woes of an infirm abode, I got an email from our younger daughter in Ecuador.
I left a tin box under the bottom stair when I was a kid thinking the next kid would find it. But given the high probability the next owner will be taking a wrecking ball to the house, maybe you should collect it before selling.
So, we lifted the tread of the bottom stair and there it was: A Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Cookies tin. I hadn’t known about this liftable tread in all the thirty-four years I went up and down those stairs to wake up, scold, placate, or say goodnight to our daughters. I didn’t think twice about the hollow sound of that bottom step. It was just one of those idiosyncrasies of an old house whose seams were slowly separating. Of course, it was one of those things a not quite ten-year-old would know about.
I opened the tin and atop an assortment of artifacts – a jumble of Canadian and American coins, a little pewter case with yet more coins, and photos of the family and our cats – there was this:
It stirred nostalgia and delight for that ten-year-old girl. Ache for that lost innocence. And a kind of sacredness toward this act that was meant to connect a ten-year-old girl to another child far into the future. A future when my ten-year-old would herself be long gone if the letter lasted into the year 3010. But when we rescued the tin from oblivion, from possible destruction by a sledge hammer or even heavy machinery in 2018, we also removed it from the realm of the future. The future is now, nineteen years after Ana hid the cookie tin under the stair.
It seemed too unceremonious to unseal the letter to the future there in our nearly empty house. It deserved preamble, witnesses other than ourselves, a communal appreciation.
Kathleen Alcalá suggested I open it at the Town Hall Inside Out event at which she was to deliver a talk on “History as an Act of the Imagination,” after which I would join her onstage to interview her. My daughter consented to this venue for unsealing the letter to the future. It seemed to fit with the theme of the evening – researching the past, connecting it to the present, and helping us to imagine the future.
We added it to the program, even publicly announced it on social media. We had a plan. But there is always the possibility that things will not go as calculated. The conversation takes a turn, the timing is off, the cue does not materialize, and the moment is lost. All of that happened. The evening was a success without it.
The disappointment at not opening the letter was fleeting. When I thought about it, I concluded that for whatever reason, that evening was not the time and place for finding out what Ana wrote to the future.
The future had not yet arrived. And that was fine with me.