Back on August 12th and 13th of 2008 (four years ago this week), I set about to try to find an unintentional time-capsule I’d buried in my grandmother’s backyard, some 25 years earlier. It was a fun two-day adventure that I chronicled on the pages of my Flickr, and though the focus was not candy (there would be some involved), I thought it would be fun to re-post the tale here – on the anniversary of the dig.
I’ll step in to edit when needed, but for the most part, I’m leaving the texts of my original posts intact. It was far fresher in my mind then. Here we go:
As kids, my brother and my friends and I would play in my grandmother’s backyard. And we would inevitably dig holes. Most of this happened in the mid-to-late 1970’s. But we found ourselves out there a bit in the very early 80’s too.
Over the years, we built forts, put firecrackers into formerly prized toys, and became amateur archaeologists, trying to understand the few artifacts we would uncover in our digs. We also buried a time capsule or two.
The reason for the “Big Dig” this year (in 2008) was the memory of my last big childhood dig. Back in the early 1980’s, I dug quite a deep hole, the last I would dig in my youth — “just to dig it.”
I dug it for a week, and it was deeper than I had ever dug before — about eight foot deep.
As it happened, when my grandmother found out about it and saw how deep it was, and before I had returned home from school that day – she had one of my other friends fill the hole up for her. By the time I got there, the ground was being packed down on the top.
I was heartbroken — my masterpiece of hole-digging was destroyed.
Most annoyingly, I found that, to save time, they threw bags of trash into the bottom of the hole — sort of a mini-landfill. And that’s what brings us to today.
It was the memory of that “mini-landfill” that got me thinking. During my visit home that summer, we should see if we can find the spot where the hole was again, and see if any of our childhood trash survived.
After all, maybe some goodies managed to survive over the years — probably not, but why not take a look, and have some fun in the process. There was one item in particular that, as a package collector, I had hoped might be in there. The odds were against it, but still, it was the dream.
Day One – A Forgotten Time Capsule
Only a few feet down into this new hole, we had already begun to uncover a few things, still no sign of the “trash fill” but we were uncovering old cans from the 70’s and 80’s, and even a nearly intact 2-liter plastic Mountain Dew bottle. More on that later.
Even though we weren’t looking for it, we knew roughly where our “big” time capsule had been buried back around 1978 or 79 — mainly because in 1992, we made a point to dig it up, open it, and re-bury the thing with a new time capsule buried on top of it. But we KNEW that was at least five feet west of the point we were digging now.
So imagine our surprise when we found THIS — a smaller time capsule that was apparently buried in 1980. Even after opening it, both my brother and I could not for the life of us remember this – but the evidence was clear — this was our stuff:
A Kenner Star Wars promotional flyer, a Hot Wheels patch, newspaper cutouts for local theater showings of Mad Max and Up the Academy. There were also a few Fleer Real Cloth Patches, and a couple near-corroded pages from a TV Guide.
Even though the coffee can was covered in plastic wrap, and double bagged in trash bags, some moisture must have remained inside, as there was a dark sludge in there, and it had affected much of the contents. It was not pretty. The Hot Wheels patch appeared to have been half-eaten by some kind of mold. Yuck.
So with this fascinating treasure in hand, we continued digging until early evening. Finding more odd bits here and there, we were encouraged. But still no large bags of trash… Maybe we were in the wrong spot?
The Wrong Spot?
At the end of day one, after digging in fits and starts, we had found much, but still no full bags of trash. Perhaps we were in the wrong spot? Maybe the trash we were hunting for had all decomposed? Or maybe we just weren’t deep enough? That’s what I figured.
At the end of day one, we must have been down about five or six feet when I found a stone tablet of sorts. It was probably the top bowl from an old bird bath that used to sit in my grandmother’s yard. Maybe it was a marker? It all felt very Indiana Jones, and it gave me hope as we ended day one.
Later that night, a large rain storm hit our home town. I worried that the rains would erode much of the progress we had made, and worse yet, whatever goodies that had been protected from moisture for the past 25 years would now get drenched.
Day two began well, as the rains didn’t seem to do much damage. My brother suspected we might have been in the wrong area, but that slab of stone gave me confidence.
About a foot-and-a-half deeper down, and we began to hit a vein of soda bottles. Soda bottle after soda bottle, some glass and most plastic. And then I found what appeared to be a trash bag…and it was.
At this point, I was eight feet down, in a tight space. It was slow work but I began to pull out the contents of the trash bag that had been there for 25 years.
Inside were more of the kinds of soda bottles we’d been finding, and other remnants of mostly-decomposed items. Oh, and about a dozen LIDS and STRAWS from 7-Eleven Big Gulps. Yeah, the lids and straws survived as if they had been buried yesterday — the cups themselves? Not a trace — those were biodegradable, it would seem, and had gone back to the earth.
Well into our second day of digging, we had found the trash bags we were looking for. At first, the contents were not too exciting. Most everything we pulled from them had seemed pretty beaten up, and partially decomposed. The two-and-a-half decades under eight feet of earth, it seemed, had taken their toll.
Then, something amazing happened. As I went down again to slowly work through the dirt and muck inside the partially-buried bags, I felt a different kind of plastic. As I carefully fished it out from within that dark mess, I was bowled over! It appeared to be part of a chip bag – a bag of Guy’s Tasty Mix! Yes, a vintage package of this snack food I had consumed so much of in my youth, and that I identified with those years so keenly, was now within my grasp.
As it came out of the muck, not only was it the package I never thought I’d see again, but it appeared to be completely intact. And it was.
The “Big Dig” went from a fanciful bit of summer fun to a real treasure hunt. I had found my Holy Grail of chip bags!
A Decades-Old Chip Bag was my Holy Grail.
I associated this snack food with so many fun times, hanging out with my friends (typically playing the Dungeons and Dragons).
Collecting packaging, whether it be cereal boxes, candy wrappers or whatever – is sometimes about reconnecting with a piece of our past and our youth. In this case, I was literally digging up my personal past.
This Guy’s Tasty Mix was a bag that I consumed and threw in the trash decades before I would care about such things. It was only through a bizarre series of circumstances that it ended up in a deep hole in my family’s backyard.
Though it was certainly an odd endeavor to take on during two-days home with family, we made it an adventure, which the whole family ended up taking part in. Our “Big Dig” was going to be fun, no matter what we found.
But we found the “Holy Grail” chip bag for my collection (and more).
As you can see from the photo above, the clean-up on this went very well. I carefully wiped this down under running water, and the dirt and years of muck kept coming off. Under the stream of warm water, the heat seals that kept the bag together also came loose, but that just allowed for easier cleaning. Eventually, I ended up with the great example you see in the bottom part of the image. Pretty neat — huh?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the big dig — it’s the Skittles bags in the early 80’s were made VERY well. After a short big of cleaning, this bag looked like it had been opened a day earlier, not 25 YEARS before.
This package is also how I was able to discern the exact year that all the trash went into the hole – it had a “best by” date of February, 1984.
While the Tasty Mix bag had a month and date, it didn’t have a year. The freshness date on these put things clearly in 1983 as the year the trash went in. A cool twenty-five years underground.
The Other Things We Found Along The Way
Coming from the year 1983, this was when soda companies were transitioning from glass to plastic bottles. How do I know? Well, the Pepsi bottles were all glass, but many of the DP bottles have a call out on them that says “New Plastic Bottle!”. This all came from the Big Dig hole…
Sadly, most of this stuff couldn’t be saved, but we took many photos for posterity. These were just too far gone.
Love the blue Sugar Free Dr Pepper cans, and there’s the remains of a Squeeze Parkay bottle in there, too. I remember those so well.
Also, there are bits and pieces of our old Mattel Space 1999: Eagle ship toy. Boy, we destroyed some great toys in our back yard.
And drank a lot of soda, too! Sorry, Mom!
At the end of that trip home, we re-buried the newly dug-up hole. Much of what we uncovered was thrown in the trash, but that Skittles pack became a part of my permanent collection.
The Guy’s Tasty Mix snack bag was framed and four years later, resides just above my desk, next to my framed 1974 Marathon bar wrapper (a pair of my all-time favorites).
So yes, we did re-bury that hole. But we didn’t just fill it with dirt. We put three separate new time capsules at the bottom of it. One was assembled by my two nieces, then 13 and 10 – the other two were filled with goodies by my brother, myself, and our good friend Jim (with input from my mother and other friends).
We threw all kinds of things in these new time capsules: Full bottles of soda, Twinkies, packs of bubble gum – and even a full pack of 2008 Guy’s Tasty Mix. The kinds of things we thought would be fun to find, years later. We also put a couple dozen photos of the dig itself, and of all of us. A physical document of the adventure we created in our backyard.
Maybe we’ll dig that one up again in 2033…
And that’s all for my re-telling of my Big Dig of 2008.
See you next time!
Really great story bro.
And a huge congrats on such a great chips bag with personal attachment no less!
I even remember you once telling me how fondly you remembered those chips…awesome!
Awesome story. Reminded me of all the bottle caps I used to save, there used to be a lot of contests/game pieces on them. One in particular that’s on the tip of my tongue.. no probably not ‘Monopoly’ based.. maybe I’ll remember. And I could never dig around the backyard I grew up in, to many buried pets out there!
my gosh, this is so touching and fun. i love how close you are with your family.
The old Skittles bag was an amazing find in such pristine condition – that’s how I remember them in the early 80’s in the UK. Incidentally Wikipedia says that “Skittles were first made commercially in 1974 by a British company.” without saying who that British company was. I’ll wager that Skittles were always a Mars product and launched as a rival to the very similar Mackintosh’s Tooty Frooties. Although I don’t remember them growing up in London in the 70’s (they seemed to appear about 1980ish where I lived) I have a friend who was raised in Northern Ireland and he certainly remembered Skittles in the 70’s. That would make sense as products are often test marketed in NI before a nationwide rollout. A definitive Skittles history would be a great idea as there’s very little info out there about the early days of the brand.
At this point, I actually have pretty much the full story on the origins of Skittles, though I’ve yet to publish it. Suffice it to say, Skittles were always made by Mars, though initially by a separate-but-related subsidiary. Initially distributed in the United States in the early 1970’s, they were produced in the Mars plant in Slough, England during those early years. I’m not sure when distribution began in the UK but it took place at some after the early success of them here in the United States. Still, all of those early Skittles were produced in the United Kingdom. 🙂
Thanks for the clarification Jason – looking forward to the story! In this UK advert – which couldn’t get any more 80’s if it tried – they are clearly labeled as “New” which pretty much rules out a full 1970’s launch in the UK! 🙂