Marion teen receives greatest birthday gift of all
Time capsule with letters from the past sat for 17 years
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MARION — For 17 years, Abby Van Metre’s birthday gift was kept secret. A box full of letters from relatives, some who died before Abby could read the messages, sat in an antique box on a shelf in her Marion home.
The letters and mementos had been placed in the box the year Abby turned 1.
On Sept. 23, one day after her 18th birthday, Abby’s parents brought the time capsule down from the shelf and gave her what turned out to be the greatest gift of all.
A WELL-KEPT SECRET
In September 1999, Susie and Kent Van Metre decided they didn’t want relatives to bring gifts to their daughter’s first birthday celebration.
The world was preparing for a new millennium and many decided to preserve some pieces of history in time capsules.
The Van Metres decided to create their own time capsule for Abby.
“We didn’t want a bunch of gifts for a 1-year-old who wouldn’t appreciate them,” Susie Van Metre said. “We asked those coming to the party to draw a picture, include a memento, write a card. People took that and ran with it. There isn’t one item or word in a letter that wasn’t heartfelt, which is a testament to our family.”
Susie and Kent Van Metre sealed 30 handwritten letters — some multiple pages long — drawings, snapshots of infant Abby and newspaper clippings in plastic baggies and placed them in the antique box, which has been in the family for many years.
The box went on the shelf, where it would sit untouched for 17 years.
“It really wasn’t hard,” Susie Van Metre said. “The letters weren’t for us. They were written to Abby. We put them in an antique box that was like a family heirloom. The kids were never drawn to it.”
Abby Van Metre says it was a secret well kept.
“I had no idea this gift existed,” she said. “It was totally out of the blue for me.”
When it finally came time for the box to be opened, Susie Van Metre took a video and posted it on Facebook for friends and family members curious to know if Abby had finally received their letters after all these years.
Turns out, many others were interested in what was taking place in the Van Metre home.
The video — posted in two parts — has garnered nearly 15 million views since Sept. 27.
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS GIVING
Though Susie Van Metre said she suspects her daughter was hoping for a new laptop or iPhone for her birthday, Abby said her parents gave her the best birthday gift she’s ever received.
“Nothing can compare to this,” Abby said. “I don’t need anything more. It really (emphasizes) the value on material versus sentimental things to me. My first thought was, ‘I’m so blessed there are so many people in my life to sit down and write their advice to me.’ ”
Abby said she uncovered a Pokemon card, which first became popular with kids in the mid to late 1990s, from a cousin with a note that read “I want my baby cousin to have this Pokemon card.”
“I called him, and he’s like, ‘Can I have that back now?’” Abby said.
Other letters included mentions of the Y2K scare that had many believing the world’s computer systems would shut down when the year 2000 rolled around, predictions of the future, advice and words of encouragement. Abby said one of the letters mentioned putting something on DVD, a new technology in the late 1990s.
Most precious of all, Abby said, were the letters from family members who died before she could read their words.
Five years ago, she lost an uncle she was close to in a car crash, and Abby said reading his letter was emotionally taxing.
“The hardest and most emotional part of the letter for me was the closing line: ‘I’m undoubtedly standing nearby laughing tremendously or terribly embarrassed as you open this on your 18th birthday.’ ”
Equally emotional was a letter from her grandfather, who died of cancer a little less than five years ago.
“My grandpa always used a certain kind of stationery,” Abby said. “It was such a visceral reaction to seeing his handwriting and feeling the paper. It was like he was standing there next to me. We have always joked that the two of us are so similar that we share a bond no one else understands.”
She said one quote from his letter expresses it best: “In one short year, as I write this note, I have come to love you so very much. Love is a word I have always had a hard time saying but it has always been in my heart. I know we’ve already formed a bond. I can see it in your eyes, your smiles and all those funny words you are learning to say. I may not be here on earth with you when you are 18, but I will always be with you spiritually if not physically. I love you.”
Snapshots of both her grandfather and uncle holding Abby as an infant also were stowed in the box.
ONE MORE ‘I LOVE YOU’
Abby said she hopes to inspire other families to give their children similar gifts.
“The fact that I get one more conversation, and one more ‘I love you’ with someone is the definition of a priceless gift,” she said. “If you have a child — even older than 1 — I would encourage them to do this.”
Abby’s sister, Holland, 14, has the same gift waiting for her, which Susie Van Metre admits is going to be a more anticipated time capsule than Abby’s.
“When they’re 18, they’ll appreciate it,” said Abby. “I wouldn’t change this for anything in the world.”
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