Halfway down the pit, we struck something solid. It just had to be treasure! Knowing my eagerness for discovering new finds, my dad indulged his little girl by digging the hole behind the shed, mindful that a small-framed child did not have the muscle to dig too deep.
My dad called me the treasure hunter, always on the hunt for the hidden goodies. One of my favorite places to find treasures was the city dump. Hills upon hills of trash yielded an abundance of hidden treasures! Dad let me roam. A tarnished trinket, a bauble, or perhaps an abandoned baby doll needing my love would usually find its way home. Sometimes, Dad would drop coins where I could find them. I loved to take home the fine white sand to make into sand cakes in my playhouse. So many treasures, so little time.
In 1960, just before my tenth birthday, we moved to the old Woodland homestead east of town. I was more than delighted. This was my great-grandfather’s property, and I was on a treasure hunt like none other. There were caches to be found everywhere: barns, shanties and sheds full of relics and antiques. I discovered sheet music played by Aunt Ruth during the old silent movies, music rolls for our player piano, Grandmother’s porcelain chamber pot, and Grandpa’s stoneware whiskey jugs. Still I dreamed of someday finding the treasure said to be in the ground. My father humored me by letting me dig holes everywhere, pointing me to areas he remembered.
“The Woodlands were wealthy,” was the town rumor. “They buried their fortune on their property.” The stories intrigued me and I wanted to find that treasure. My first dig uncovered boxes and boxes of women’s silk hose – the kind of stockings with the seam up the back that buttoned to corsets. They were still in their packages. I later learned Great-great Aunts Jessie and Charlotte were dressmakers and owned one of the finest dress shops in the little town of Clark, South Dakota. Another little-known fact is that during World War II, silk stockings were rationed, and ladies relied on cotton or rayon. My aunts simply buried theirs for safe-keeping!
Another mound unearthed a pile of wire frames, eyeglasses, and spectacles. My great-great uncle was once the town optometrist and for some reason, buried his whole stock when he went out of business. His little shop, still on the property, became my playhouse.
Dad tapped the hard surface a few times with his shovel, and then pried up a rock and lifted it out of the ground. “Here’s your treasure, sweetie: a beautiful big rock!” he teased.
“There has to be more down there! Please dig a little further? Please?” I fluttered my eyes. I could talk my dad into almost anything if I looked at him just right. He smiled and began to dig some more. I jumped into the hole half as tall as myself as he hit something that clanged like metal against metal.
“We found the treasure!” I squealed in delight. I scooped away more dirt with my small shovel until we uncovered the top of a rusty metal object. “It’s true! We’re rich! ”
Dad laughed at my excitement but I couldn’t understand what was so funny.
“Can we dig it out? Can we open it up? I want to see the treasure!” I begged.
“Sorry, honey.” he chuckled. “It was once worth a fortune, but not anymore. It’s just an old iron threshing machine – bigger than a piano – not worth digging up. I just wanted you to find the Woodland fortune,” he laughed. “I wanted to see you smile.” He laughed again.
I then heard the story of how Grandfather bought a steam threshing machine to start farming. If young men were farmers, they wouldn’t be drafted into WWI, and he wanted to keep his two army-aged sons home. Years later during WWII, iron was an important economic factor in the war. People were not allowed to own iron; the government needed it for manufacturing shells, B-12 bomber parts, and doors for Sherman tanks. Grandfather did not favor his iron thresher being used for weaponry and did not want it confiscated. Since it was too large to haul away, he buried it in the backyard.
So the stories were true after all. The Woodlands did bury their fortune in the backyard, and I found it (with the help of my dad)! I may not have dug up a treasure chest of gold that day; I discovered something far better – a treasured lifetime legacy.
In honor of my father – for Father’s Day. This story has won several awards and is published in two anthologies.
I love this story. It’s proof that true treasure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder (or maybe the shovel holder).
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