Monday, December 1, 2008

Buried Treasure

My brother, Kelley, and I loved playing outdoors when we were kids. We lived on an old farm with a big weathered barn surrounded by acres of fields and woodland. Except for an occasional steer or lamb that our family raised for meat, we didn’t use the barn much. It was really our giant playhouse.

On a rainy day, the barn was a dry place to play. On a hot summer day, the lower level was dark and cool. And the barn always had that wonderful smell of wood, hay and animals. Swallows swooped in and out the big open door during the day, and bats fluttered out at dusk.

On the main floor, my father hung a swing of strong sisal rope from one of the upper beams. The swing made a creaking sound as I sat on the plank seat swinging higher and higher. If I pumped hard enough, I could touch the edge of the hayloft with my toe.

The ancient barn was a three-dimensional maze of stairways, stalls, ladders and lofts. There were dozens of places to hide… numerous ways to sneak up on each other… and several heavy plank doors that slid open and closed on iron tracks.

To my brother and I, it was a frontier town, a pirate ship and a medieval castle. We ran, climbed, jumped and fought mock battles with Indians, pirates, gangsters and German soldiers. We sometimes even let our little sister, Krissie, join in our games.

Sliding down the hay chutes from the main floor to the mangers below was a quick get away from imaginary foes. The chutes were just the right size for a young boy, and the insides were worn smooth from years of hay passing through.

There was an old workshop on the lower level with the name Yatchy painted in red letters on its faded blue door. We cleared off the workbench and swept the concrete floor to make Yatchy our private clubhouse. With homemade wanted posters on the walls it became the sherrif’s office. With the addition of an old telephone, it became a police station.

It was there in Yatchy that I spent hours drawing detailed maps of our land and buildings. I gave adventurous-sounding names to all the landmarks. The old chicken coop in the back yard was the Miner’s Shack. The path down the back field past the huge boulder was the Big Rock Trail. The small pit next to the path where some gravel had been removed was Dry Gulch. And the sluiceway at the ancient saw mill site in the woods was Dead Man’s Gorge.

But it was a treasure map from a box of Wheaties that gave me the idea to bury some treasure.

A gold-trimmed, plastic cigar box from the attic became our treasure chest. My brother and I filled it with play money, our best marbles and small rocks that we painstakingly painted with gold paint. It looked good, but we weren’t satisfied. When my older sister, Karen, was visiting a friend, we raided her jewelry box and made off with her costume jewelry and some old foreign coins. Our treasure chest looked great!

Dressed as pirates and armed with wooden swords and shovels, Kelley and I went into the field beside the house to bury our treasure. The grass was already up to our knees. We found a suitable spot and carefully removed the sod.

“How deep do we have to dig,” Kelley asked.

“At least six feet. Pirates always bury treasure that deep,” I replied with authority.

We dug for a long time. It was a hot summer day, and we were soon sweating.

“Isn’t this deep enough,” my brother asked.

“You don’t want anyone stealing our treasure, do you?” I warned.

We kept digging.

I was beginning to realize just how deep six feet was as I climbed down into the hole to dig deeper. When I was up to my chest in the ground and having difficulty lifting the shovels full of gravel to the top, I decided we had gone deep enough.

The gravel at the bottom of the hole felt cool as I set our precious treasure chest in place. After refilling the hole, we placed the sod back in place. No one would ever know.

Back in Yatchy, I drew a map with the location of the treasure precisely paced out from the stone wall at the edge of the field. I used colored pencils and old-fashioned lettering and then crumpled it up several times to make it look old and worn. It was a work of art. I stuck it in my pocket and went into the house for supper.

I forgot about the map until a few days later when I saw my jeans on the clothesline. In the pocket was a wad of damp paper that fell to pieces when I tried to unfold it. My beautiful map was destroyed. Fortunately, I remembered the directions for finding the treasure.

My sister made a big fuss about her missing jewelry, but my brother and I played dumb. We decided it was best to let the treasure cool off for a while. Days, weeks and months went by; and then it was winter. Late in the following spring, we decided it was safe to dig up the treasure. Again armed with swords and shovels, we ventured into the field.

We found the rock in the stone wall that marked the starting point and paced thirty paces straight out and then eighteen paces to the left. We dug down three feet. No treasure.

So we dug deeper. Still no treasure.

We paced the distance again. Maybe it was eighteen paces out and thirty paces to the left or thirty paces out and eighteen paces to the right. We tried them all with no success. After several hours we gave up.

My brother and I spent many hours digging in that field over the next few years. When friends visited, we continued the search. We tried many combinations starting from different rocks in the wall. None produced results. As far as I know, our treasure is still buried somewhere in that field.

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