In January, Sam and Susan Keller were between tenants at one of their rental homes, so they decided to do a major remodeling of the kitchen.
That's when their son, doing the work, discovered in a wall a small glass jar with a faded blue cap that says Kraft Marshmallow Crème. A piece of tape on the jar says "Time Capsule."
The Kellers bought the St. Charles home in 1991 for $51,500 from William and Linda Killingsworth, who had lived there for 28 years and raised their three children: Julie, Sara and John.
The glass jar contained a 1972 penny, a small piece of blue plastic shaped like a broom, and letters Julie and Sara wrote on Feb. 19, 1972. Sara was 9 and Julie was 10. Their Monroe Elementary School pictures are in the jar, too. In their letters they mention little brother John, then 5.
It's a small jar, not much in it, tucked away in a small house on Hannibal Drive. But for the Killingsworths it's a portal back to their life as a family 39 years ago. It is a reminder of how good that life was. It also is a reminder of a father and husband who is no longer with them.
After Linda and William Killingsworth sold their home, they retired to Eddyville, Ill., population 147. They moved into the house where Linda was born.
William died of lung cancer in 2006 just before he and Linda would have celebrated 50 years of marriage.
For several months after the time capsule discovery Susan Keller forgot about the jar. When she remembered she tried to contact Sara and then called me.
Linda, 75, volunteers at the local senior center in Eddyville and writes about births and anniversaries as a correspondent for the local paper. She remembers the time capsule.
"I didn't think anybody would ever find that," she says.
It was her husband's idea. "He was very creative like that."
Sara recalls her father asking her and Julie to write letters for the time capsule.
"It is so my dad," she says. "It is kind of the fun thing he would do. He was very creative. He always liked to write. He wrote us letters from Santa Claus."
"I knew that we had put together a time capsule," Julie says. "But I could not have told you where it was. Dad was always having us do things like that."
Sara Killingsworth is now 49, single and living in Kirkwood. Julie Killingsworth is 50, married and in Austin, Texas. John is now 44. He is single and has three children and lives in WingHaven in O'Fallon.
Sara's letter reads, in part:
To who ever finds this note,
My name is: Sara Killingsworth.
This is me in 3erd grade.
I am going to a pajama party tonight, her name is Lesa Paddock. My best friends are Lesa Paddock, Donna Eaton, Kelly Kintz, Laura Graves, Cheri Meyer, and Beth Justman.
Julie, a fifth-grader at the time, wrote that the most popular song was "American Pie" and that she had a dog named Pup and gerbils named Terry, Tina and Tim.
Linda has fond memories of the house, which they bought new, and of St. Charles.
"The house itself was nothing fancy," Linda says. "But to us it was wonderful."
The neighborhood was filled with children who rode bikes and who walked to the nearby cinema back when it showed first-run features.
"Fifteen kids would get together and get candy from the Standard Drug Store and then go see three Disney matinees," Sara says.
John's ride up Sawyer Boulevard on his BMX bike to see best buddy Roger Davis seemed like a trek up Everest.
William Killingsworth was a history buff, John says. He also was a wood carver. In fact, his father, an assistant Scout master, once made a welcome sign for Troop 975 of the Boy Scouts of America. John eventually became an Eagle scout.
Children still ride bikes on Hannibal Drive. They were riding on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 19, when Susan and Sam Keller gave the glass jar to Sara Killingsworth and John Killingsworth, who was with two of his children.
The front yard has two mature sweet gum trees that William Killingsworth planted decades ago. The lawn is covered in leaves as well as an old familiar site for John — the gum balls that fall from those trees.
There is a metal fence behind the carport. Like the scene from "It's A Wonderful Life," where George Bailey lifts the post cap on the staircase, John lifts a metal cap from a hollow cylindrical post in the fence. He reminds his sister of how on the Fourth of July they shot bottle rockets out of the chamber.
On the front porch, he says, he would sit with his dad as they watched approaching thunderstorms, mesmerized by the lightning that danced across a golf course now carpeted by homes.
The current renters are home and have agreed to let the Killingsworths re-enter a house that is so much a part of their lives. Sara looks out a back window and sees a flower bed her father made.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he buried something out there, too," she says.
In his former bedroom, John tenderly places his hands over the ears of his 9-year-old son — named after the boy's grandfather. John points to the window and says, "Do you know how many times I snuck out of that window when I was 16 to 18?"
I don't think it would have mattered to William Killingsworth that the time capsule was found. What mattered most was that his children participated in a small adventure with him. He engaged them. He made life a little more interesting. He shared his spark.
John Killingsworth tells me how odd it was that I called when I did about a time capsule he had long forgotten.
John recently attended a Scouting event attended by 4,000 Scouts in Lincoln County. He happened to stumble upon his boyhood troop. He was welcomed by an old familiar sign.