Contest #173 shortlist ⭐️

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Creative Nonfiction Indigenous Western

So here’s the thing, I want to tell you a story about a time capsule.


Wait, that’s not entirely true. It’s really a story about two people and a time capsule. Oh, and by the way, this time capsule is also a purse.


Don't worry, it will all make sense at the end. I promise.


Kathleen, or Kathy for short, was so unique that even peculiar people called her quirky. She was proud of her name, although she wanted everyone to know that not all Kathys were alike. She was fond of saying that Cathys with a C were wimps. She always said this with a smile because Kathy loved everyone—even Cathys.


I know what you're thinking, she couldn't have been that unique. Well, I'm here to tell you she was. I'll give you an example. Whereas most people go out and buy an ugly sweater before a Christmas party, Kathy’s closet was full of them year-round. When she did attend the aforementioned gatherings, the prize would always go to the second ugliest sweater at the party. It was the only way to keep Kathy from winning every year. 


Here's another example. Kathy bought hundreds of magnetic multi-colored polka dots to place strategically all over her car so she could always find it in a parking lot. Her husband, Pete, would tell you, however, it had nothing to do with the fear of losing the car—it was just Kathy being Kathy.


That brings us to the reason for this story: the time capsule. I told you it was also a purse, right? Good. Well, Kathy started carrying the purse her first year in high school, but—just like everything else she did—it was bigger and louder than any other girl's in town. The monstrosity was large enough to fit a medium-sized dog comfortably. I'm not entirely sure why someone would want to carry a medium sized dog in a purse, but you get the idea. In addition, it had an extra-long strap. It had to. It was the only way she could carry it on the opposite side of her body. This was critical because the purse was unbelievably heavy when it was full, and it was often full of the strangest things.


Once at a baby shower, the host—as part of an ice breaker—offered five dollars to the attendee who could produce the oddest item from her purse. One woman had a pair of dirty pantyhose. Another produced a box of condoms. A third, the remaining bit of a partially eaten egg salad sandwich. But Kathy, in her last year of nursing school, simply reached into her purse and retrieved a stool specimen. She had collected it earlier that day and, needless to say, she won the contest in a unanimous vote.  


Kathy also had another special use for this purse. In an instant it could be transformed into, you guessed it, a time capsule. Don't act shocked—I’ve told you about that at least three times.


The important thing to understand is it’s not easy being different, especially when you are young. Most teenagers do everything they can to fit in, as it’s much easier to be part of a crowd than to stand out from one. 


Kathy, on the other hand, always wanted to be true to herself. As a result, she, like many teenagers who march to their own drums, was misunderstood, ostracized, and bullied. Kathy, never one to let circumstance control her, came up with an ingenious idea. Whenever anything was going badly or she was dealing with something that seemed like the end of the world, she would activate her purse’s secret super-power. 


The first thing she would do was to find a small piece of paper and a pen. She would then write out the current trauma on said paper, ball it up as tightly as she could, and throw it in her purse. It was her way of setting the problem aside while not letting it change who she was or her happy outlook on life.  


This trick was great for temporary relief, but the real reason for the practice came from its long-term benefits. This is when our hero, Kathy, would take her ordinary purse and transform it into a time capsule.


(I know. I know. The purse wasn't ordinary, but neither was Kathy. Stop interrupting. I don't want to lose my train of thought.)


The thing about having a purse so large is one can go for long periods of time without emptying it. There were times where it would be years between cleanings, but each time she did, Kathy would find those small balls of paper, open them up and read them.


I’m failing math.


Bobby says he doesn’t love me anymore.


I got into a fender bender in mom’s car.


I’m pregnant. Dad’s going to kill me.


Those notes were little time machines that would take Kathy back to the days each earth-changing event had happened. Invariably things had worked themselves out. To say the least, they were no longer the end of time issues. In fact, often she'd have forgotten about the problem all together.


Kathy had spent extra time studying and passed math with a “B”. 


Bobby was kind of a bad guy anyway, and she knew that now. 


Mom was so happy Kathy was alright that she just hugged her and forgot to be mad about the accident. 


Yep, it turned out these life-changing events weren’t life-changing at all, except for that last one. That last one is what this story is all about. 


(Stop complaining, I’m getting to the point as fast as I can.)


Where was I? Oh, that’s right, this part of the story starts after high school. Kathy had gone to college on a math scholarship. Okay, she didn’t really go on a math scholarship. I was just making sure you were paying attention. She did, however, go to college and it was there she met Charles. 


Charles was everything Kathy wasn’t. He wore Oxford button-down shirts and loafers. (I know, loafers, who does that?) He came from money and had a slight English accent. This was unusual because no one in his family had been to England since before the Revolutionary War. He wasn’t particularly smart or funny, even by accident. He was nothing like Kathy and that attracted her.  


It’s also important that you know that despite all of Kathy’s quirks, she had grown into quite the handsome young woman. She had long curly auburn hair and piercing brown eyes. The purse wasn't a magnet for the fellas, but the rest of her attracted them like flies. For some reason, Kathy settled on Charles.  


Their relationship came and went more quickly than the Edsel; however, there was one lasting reminder—Kathy’s unborn child. 


This was problematic to say the least. You see Kathy’s parents weren’t particularly religious, but they were practicing Catholics. It goes without saying there are few surprises less welcome in a Catholic household than an unexpected pregnancy out of wedlock. Marriage, on the other hand, was not an option. "Good old" Charles left school and stopped answering the phone as soon as he found out he was a father-to-be. Kathy was alone and unsure if, for the first time in her life, the time capsule purse would let her down.  


As good luck would have it, she would be home for Christmas before she started to show her "predicament." This would allow her to surprise her mom and dad with the news. 


(In case it’s not obvious, I’m being sarcastic there.)


She was dreading that conversation and that’s what precipitated that last note. She quickly scribbled her concern down and, after wadding the paper up as tightly as she could, threw it in her purse just before climbing onto the bus home.


Christmases at Kathy’s home had always been special. The family, which consisted of Mom, Dad, Kathy, and her five siblings, would always start preparing for Christmas the Friday morning after Thanksgiving.


(Yes, I know, I said five siblings. Remember these are practicing Catholics we are talking about, but I digress.)


After hours of decorating, her childhood home would be transformed from an average suburban two-story into a Christmas wonderland. There was the manger on the coffee table, a tree in the center of the family room, and mistletoe over most of the doorways. In the back of the room, where the fireplace warmed the home and their hearts, were stockings, hung by the chimney with care. 


Kathy's family, always partial to music, played Christmas carols on a loop. Kathy's dad loved the old favorites like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Silent Night," but while he was at work mom let the kids play "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" to their heart's content. 


And the smells! The fantastic Christmas smells. Cookies cooking, eggnog nogging, and wassail simmering made the whole house smell holiday delicious.  


I am telling you all of this so you can see, in your mind's eye, what Kathy was walking into. She knew she could skip the Christmas trip and wait until spring break when her over-sized belly could do the talking or just bring home a little surprise during summer break, but she was no coward. To Kathy, who loved her parents deeply, those ideas were cruel. She, likewise, could choose to end the pregnancy but that idea left her mind faster than Charles had left town. Kathy was less than two months pregnant and yet, she already loved her child. She was keeping it, even if it meant disappointing her family.


The good thing was Kathy had a plan. As a young girl, Kathy had learned when breaking bad news there were only two ways to soften the blow for her dad. The first was with food and the second involved her mom. Kathy knew she had to win over her mom first before approaching her dad. When the time was right and they were alone, Kathy confided the news to her mom. The revelation set off a familiar response. Her mother paused, sat down for a second, and then stood back up and started to cook pasta. Kathy's mom, you see, knew the two tricks as well, and this surprise would most assuredly take both. 


Now I wasn’t there for the conversation with Kathy’s dad, but I’ve spoken to people who were and by that I mean, Kathy, her mom, and—yes—her dad, too. The consensus was there was no consensus. 


Kathy’s dad said he took the news like a man, and after pausing and sitting down (Are you noticing a pattern here?) hugged his daughter, said he loved her and promised everything would be alright. 


Kathy’s mom said her father screamed “What!” and turned bright red. He even stopped breathing for a minute. He then paused, sat down, and hugged Kathy. 


Kathy said, well, she said she wasn’t quite sure what happened. She had run out of the room as soon as the words came out of her mouth. She missed everything that happened after the reveal and before the hug.  


You see it turned out the time capsule had worked after all. Kathy’s dad was shocked and a little disappointed, but he was going to be a Poppy. That’s what the little girl ended up calling him, and what dad doesn't want to be a Poppy? The bottom line is he loved Kathy and he couldn’t wait to meet his first grandchild.  


It’s been years since that day and Kathy never gave up on her purse. Her time capsule worked that Christmas so long ago, and it’s worked every time since. It has a perfect record.


I'm happy to report, unlike Bobby and Charles, Kathy found a keeper in Pete. He was a loving husband to Kathy and devoted father to her baby girl. You see there were a whole lot fewer opportunities to use the time capsule because Kathy found true happiness.


So I guess you’re sitting there wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, you see I have a small part to play in this, too. If you look back you'll see I said this story was about two people. Well, the other one was me. I was the little girl Kathy decided to keep. Kathy is my mom and today we laid her to rest. 


She had some very specific requests for her funeral. The first was very difficult, I’m not going to lie. She insisted her coffin be covered in multi-colored polka dots. 


Have you ever tried to put polka dots on a coffin? Of course, you haven’t. No one has. That was a stupid question. I will say this, it looked ridiculous, but that was Mom at her best, being quirky from beyond the grave. 


The second request was for laughter. Anyone could give a eulogy, but they had to tell a joke first. She wanted people laughing through their tears. 


The last, and by far the most emotional for me, was that as soon as she “was feeding the worms” (her words not mine), her oversized leather purse was to be passed on to me. It was my greatest joy and most profound sadness to accept her gift, and I’m sure you know the first thing I did. I pulled out a little piece of paper and a pen and wrote:


I buried my Mom today. How will I go on without her?


Then I rolled it up in a ball, threw it in my new purse, and headed home.


(Oh, by the way, I don't have any stool specimens in there, I promise.)


November 21, 2022 16:25

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75 comments

Antonio Jimenez
21:52 Nov 30, 2022

What an awesome story. I really wasn't sure where the story was going but when you revealed the narrator as the daughter it all fell into place. Everything about this, from the descriptions to the slight bits of humor was perfect. Great job! I'd love for you to check out my newest story. I need feedback! Thanks!

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Harper Frost
11:57 Nov 30, 2022

Hi, im new to reedsy and i just came across this story and i must say i am absolutely in love. The writing, the plot, the characters, everything. What a beautiful story!

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Anna W
20:24 Nov 29, 2022

Wow. I was so moved by this story! What a beautiful way to tell Kathy's story. I laughed and teared up and was inspired to remember the small, beautiful moments life offers us. Thank you for sharing this!

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18:25 Nov 29, 2022

Wonderful story. I enjoyed reading it immensely. Quirky, thoughtful, and captivating. The "eggnog nogging," was definitely my favorite line. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

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Jennifer Cameron
15:01 Nov 29, 2022

Incredible!! Sorry I'm late but loved this story so much.

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21:56 Nov 28, 2022

What a wonderful story! My mom passed last month and I've been struggling. I know what a comfort it is to remember the good times. We used to poke fun at each other all the time. Your story made me smile. I've always liked the idea of writing down your worries and tossing them into the great beyond. An answer always comes back even if it's not in the form we expect it.

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Thom With An H
22:03 Nov 28, 2022

Theresa, I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I'm glad my story could make you smile even a little. I know there are no words to sooth when the wound is so recent but I promise, one day the joy of the memories will outweigh the loss. My very best to you and yours and thank you for brightening my day a little as well.

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Kristin Neubauer
15:12 Nov 28, 2022

A classic, Thom....I loved this story. It was charming, funny and poignant all at the same time. I thought you developed Kathy's character so well. I wasn't sure where you were going with it at first, but the more you unfurled, the clearer she came into the focus and the more I liked her. I also liked how you made the purse a character too. Not easy to do with an inanimate object, but I have this clear image in my head of the purse and I was rooting for it until the last word. And, I thought how you wove the suspense through the story was...

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Thom With An H
01:57 Nov 29, 2022

Kristen, thank you so much. This story had a very different voice than most I write but it was a true labor of love. Almost all the stories are either true or based on truth. My mom, Kathy, was quite the character. Hey I was wondering if you might give The Period at the End of A Sentence a look see. It was a mess after the first draft but has become one of my favorites. I’d love to know what you think.

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Kristin Neubauer
14:28 Nov 29, 2022

Yes, definitely. I am planning to work my way through all of your stories that I missed over the past year, but I will go to The Period at the End of a Sentence first. Can't wait!

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Laurel Hanson
13:05 Nov 28, 2022

Love the narrative voice and the commentary directed at the reader. It's called "breaking the fourth wall" in theater and "authorial intrusion" in literary discussion. But I like breaking the fourth wall better as it creates that visual of the speaker turning and speaking directly out at the audience/reader which is a strong story telling technique and which is done so well here, drawing the reader in. This uses a light hand to hit on some big ticket issues - unwanted pregnancy, obviously, but also how we handle our problems. Great job

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Marty B
05:09 Nov 28, 2022

I love the imagery of the story, and the bottomless purse. This was a particularly striking image to me. 'She insisted her coffin be covered in multi-colored polka dots.' good story!

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Francois K
18:54 Nov 27, 2022

What a charming and poignant story, Thom! It's so true that it helps to write things down like that, and it's a great idea to make it into a time capsule. I love how the purse was passed on to the daughter at the end.

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Thom With An H
20:09 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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KarLynn Erickson
03:09 Nov 27, 2022

What a fun story. You are unique in your writing style and I love it. It's easy to follow and always has fun twists. Great job!

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Thom With An H
05:44 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks so much.

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Susan Catucci
22:14 Nov 26, 2022

Okay, Thom, stop it! This is TOO good! I enjoyed every dang word, laughed (out loud) multiple times and fell in love over and over, with Kathy, with every character who came down the chute! The ending left me dumbfounded (love that word) and what you have here is the most profoundly ridiculous masterpiece of a story I've read in -- who cares how long. (Said with no sarcasm in sight)

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Thom With An H
06:15 Nov 27, 2022

You keep this up and your going to quickly become my favorite reader. Seriously, thanks so much. From me and Kathy. 😀

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18:21 Nov 26, 2022

I found myself relating to Kathy, the mother, repeatedly. My purses used to be BIG. I called them my Mary Poppins bags. I could pull anything out of them. Well, not a stool specimen, but some pretty strange things. I collect magnets and love polka dots. My husband knows my funeral must be full of laughter, funny stories, a buffet, a band, and cocktails. I felt like Kathy, and I would have been good friends. Bravo! You had me tearing up at the end.

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AnneMarie Miles
16:56 Nov 26, 2022

Thom, you used quite a different voice here than in your last stories. I love when writers do this, just to show they can play around with different tones and points of view. That was the first thing I noted. The next thing I noticed was I had no idea where this was going! And to find out in the end, it was Kathy's daughter, wow. I love how you sealed the story, bringing back a bit of Kathy's unique personality and then her daughter's her first capsule entry - and such a tough one to have to write! Nonetheless, I appreciated the concept of...

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Annabella Bones
15:53 Nov 26, 2022

Very enjoyable story! And I love the idea of the time capsule. It’s unique and creative and the story reads smoothly. Well done.

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Antara Srikanth
15:22 Nov 26, 2022

Such a beautiful and poignant story. Made me really emotional. I could visualise your mom through out. She must be so amazing. You're truly blessed to have had her in your life. Much love.

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Antara Srikanth
15:21 Nov 26, 2022

Such a beautiful and a poignant story. I could visualise your mom through out. Loved the idea of the time capsule. She's must be so amazing and you are really blessed to have had her in your life. Much love to you.

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13:23 Nov 26, 2022

This story has everything! Loved it

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08:16 Nov 26, 2022

That was a great story Thom, really enjoyed it. I think that overly-engaged-in-telling-it narrator has to be done with care otherwise you draw your readers away from the story, but that hardly bothered me at all here. Keep 'em coming!

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Rebecca Miles
05:51 Nov 26, 2022

Ah Thom, you take us by the hand in this one like an accomplished ballroom dancer. I felt like I'd been elegantly twirled around a spacious ballroom with all your confident narrator's asides. Two things for you this week, just as they pop into my head. Firstly, well done on capturing female perspective so well. It can be a daunting leap into capturing a different gender but both mum and, more critically, daughter, feel very believable. Secondly, a little personal digression ( like your narrator, I'm sure I'm allowed one!) My third daughte...

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Rebecca Miles
17:11 Dec 02, 2022

Another shortlist, another bottle of fizz in the Brodkin household🥂Water in the Miles residence again this week; my liver will thank me for it at least😂

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