gotta go where there ain't any snow,
~ GreenWoman's Log, KWFL, February 3, 1998 ~
I'll never forget how it started.
There are two seasons in Illinois ... hell and hell frozen over, I remember thinking as I stood in the first warm sun of spring and scanned the yellow-brown mess that was my old backyard flower bed. The cynic and Southerner in me still couldn't believe the miracle of midwestern perennials that really, stubbornly did come back after being covered with snow all winter. Yet there they were ... small clumps of green leaves pushing resolutely up out of the mud. I apologized silently to Mother Nature, pushed the button on my boombox which was balanced precariously on the edge of the concrete patio slab, hefted my shovel and waded into the muddy flowerbed.
"The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful...." I love grubbing in the dirt, but I had a long day ahead of me. I had to move almost a dozen hostas, since an old maple had finally came down that winter, taking their shade with it.
The ground squished with mushy ease beneath my feet, but the digging was hard ... the tree had been an ancient one, and its roots were everywhere. By mid-morning I had an aching back and a dozen muddy and indignant plants unearthed and waiting to be moved. Then, as I began to dig a trench around a bed of ferns, my shovel blade connected with something hard.
"Dammit." I poked in the dark earth with my trowel and, after a moment's work, pried a brick out of the hole. I knocked it against my boot to dislodge the more stubborn clumps of mud and peered at it. Looking closely, I could see the stamp of the brickyard but couldn't read it. I dropped the trowel and made my way, brick in hand, to the hose spigot. Left to loosen, I recited silently, forcing the reluctant wheel to turn, and aimed a forceful stream of cold water at my prize.
"Boneyard Creek 1832" I read as the mud was flushed from furrows on the surface where, 158 years earlier, some midwestern hod-yard employee had plunged a wooden stamp into the hot clay. There must have been another building on this site before my family's home had been built. The street had been on the edge of town even then, in 1900, but this brick had been laid down when the horizon was still little but cornfields and pasture.
Further washing revealed a shallower stamp of a skull and crossbones on the brick's surface. Cool, I thought. If there are any more, they'll be worth digging up and reusing. I returned to the fern bed, carefully lifting the delicate roots and then working with more abandon on the bricks beneath.
There were a lot of them ... a small pile grew next to the flowerbed as I dug. Buried treasure, I thought zanily. These probably disappeared when that maple took over an old patio. I wonder who lived here then?
Prying up another brick, the trowel clinked as it scraped over something metallic. Startled, I poked into the dirt again, and again heard metal upon metal. Three more bricks were tugged from where they had lain for a century and a half, before the edges of a rusting metal box became clearly defined in the earth beneath. I was tired and sweaty, and I rocked back on my heels and sat down in the mud, breathing hard.
Buried treasure, I giggled. More likely, the moldering remains of someone's collection of Victorian French postcards, or a cache of Confederate money. But that would be cool. I like old things, and odd things. I began digging again, with renewed energy.
The box was twined in maple roots, and took a lot of work to extract, but after investing more sweat and a lot of calories, I had it out of the hole. Getting into it was relatively easy. Over the years, the tree's fingerfeet had wrapped around the box and torqued it with the pressure of their grasp, insinuating themselves through the hasp of the old lock and forcing it apart. All I did was tug at the top. With a tooth-piercing squeal the hinges gave. I felt like Indiana Jones.
There was gold inside. Gold coins. A lot of them. They had Spanish letters imprinted in their irregular surfaces, and the profile of a fellow who looked a lot like a heavy in an old pirate movie on the other side.
Buried treasure. Think it three times, and it appears. Just like Candyman.
Nestled among the coins was a piece of sheepskin, rolled and tied with rotting silk cord. Carefully, I pulled it free of the gold and unfurled it, shaking the dirt away. I held it up to the light and squinted at words in odd Old English spellings, traced in spidery handwriting and faded ink.
Ey am tthe drede pyratte Bubba Robertts. Phore yeres was Ey tthe Mastter of tthe pyratte shippe "TThe Goldyne Hyndequartters," and a damme phyne mastter Ey was, as welle! Nevere were wye borded, nor capttured, an not a one oph mye mens saw the gibbett!
Yette now, cannons don'tt tthundyre, tthere's notthing tto plundyre, and the occupayshun be nott around. Ey'm rettyred an lyve with mye daughtter, phar phrom tthe Sea.
Here be mye legacey, ttraysure phrom the Deep layed low in the dyrtt. Ey laye itt here witth a sea dogge's blessyng -- may itt retyrn tto tthe Sea tthe heartt and hande which phree itt.
I sat quietly in the mud for a long time, thinking, before I got to my feet and went back into the house, the parchment tight in my shaking hand. First I uncorked the champagne that had lain untouched in the back of the fridge through two New Years, and filled my Star Trek, Deep Space Nine "Quark's Place" mug to the brim with Korbel Extra Dry. Then I made some phone calls. Finally, I sat down in front of the computer.
The first e-mail I wrote to Desdemona. The second went to Dawn the Beach Bitch, the third to GrandMommie Parrotthead, and the fourth to Emilie. The replies filtered back, with GMPH being the last, and the most exciting.
It said, "I think I've found it."