Today I read a thought from a friend about treasures. It started me thinking. When I was 9 or 10 my best friend in the whole world, Georgie Rast, and I found what appeared to be a cave on the side of a creek that ran through the woods near our neighborhood. We knew without a doubt that we had found the entrance to a Confederate cache. There was no telling just what treasures were to be found simply by digging into the creek bank. We were certain that some battle had been fought there during the War of Northern Aggression since we often dug minie balls from trees in that area.
Each afternoon after school, we headed for our secret cache. We took turns digging into that creek bank for all we were worth. As we dug, we discovered what appeared to be a fairly large hollow space. It was at the base of a huge pine tree growing right on the bank of the creek. That encouraged us to dig even more fervently since that very tree had yielded several minie balls. The digging was arduous since as mere boys, we didn’t have any tools except our hands with which to dig.
Determined to find a better and faster way to dig, we thought about what might be suitable tools. I found an old Plymouth hubcap from a 1949 automobile; actually it came off of my Mother’s car one evening when she and Daddy were away at some church function. They figured it must have popped off when Mother hit a pothole. Mother drove that car with three hubcaps until I returned the “borrowed” one at the dig’s end. Ah, potholes, that’s a topic for another day.
Georgie had a number 10 can that he snitched from his mother’s pantry. He opened the top with one of those can openers that you can no longer find. You stuck a pointed tip through the can top and then worked it up and down around the can until the top was almost liberated. If you unzipped the lid too far it fell into the can and then removing it was hazardous. With the last upward pull, the can tip lifted up just enough to get a fork tine into and pry it up enough to work back and forth until it broke free. Having worked the top loose one had to be extremely careful in removing it. Even more caution had to be used in handling the can since the edges were covered with pointed spurs. Georgie, then dug a hole in the backyard and poured the beets into it. It is a statement about canned beets in those days that my dog, “Blackie”, didn’t dig them up to eat. Blackie my wonder dog, being part hound, had an incredible sense of smell and loved nothing better than digging up really, really rotten stuff to either eat or roll in. It didn’t much matter to him which he did, but he kept several feet away from the buried beets.
Anyway, with our newly found tools, Georgie and I dug with a new furor. We couldn’t dig every day since we went home covered with clay and dirt. Our mothers questioned how we got so dirty and we didn’t want to divulge the secret of the Confederate cache, so we made some feeble excuse. We decided to dig every other day and on non-dig days we would recline on the creek’s edge by our hoped for treasure trove and dream of what we would do when we were world famous treasure hunters and independently wealthy.
We could go to downtown Atlanta on our own in a limousine driven by our own man who wouldn’t tell our mothers and daddies what we were doing and eat all the Krystals our stomachs could hold. We could eat all the B B Bats, Red Vines Licorice, Charms, Necco Wafers that we could stuff into our mouths. We could buy RC Colas and Moon Pies by the case and we never had to return the bottles a silly 3 cents refund. We could buy our own super constellation and fly to exotic places like Xanadu. We had no idea where Xanadu was, but by gum, we wanted to go there. We knew all about Super Constellations from watching the Mouseketeers on the black-and-white TV. (We were just slightly too young to appreciate the beauty of Annette Funicello. (That would come later). We spent hours smoking candy cigarettes just thinking of what our fortunes would allow us to do. We thought it would be wonderful to buy our own home and only allow our mothers and fathers to visit at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We would not have to invite our younger sisters and brothers at all.
On our dig days, we worked at a furious pace since our dig time had been dramatically reduced and we had to be home by suppertime. We didn’t get out of school until 3:30 p.m. so we only had a little time to dig. As we dug, we continued to find evidence of small openings. They were small and torturous hollows in the dirt and encouraged us to keep on digging. I being the bolder one did most of the digging while Georgie hauled away the cast off and dumped it discreetly in the creek. We didn’t want anyone to notice the increase of sediment downstream, which might give us away. I don’t have a clue how we knew that, but we did.
We dug so deeply that I was in the hole up to my knees and vision became a problem. When I squirmed into the hole, my body blocked the light and kept it from coming in. Both my Mother and Georgie’s had some candles, so we snitched what we dared. Both of our fathers smoked so we could get matches without a problem. We put a candle in an old RC bottle and lit it. Then I held it in front of me as I squirmed into the cave. Within a couple of minutes, the candle went out and I got short of breath. We tried it a second time and the same thing happened. We decided that I should just dig blind. I didn’t need to see what I was doing.
One afternoon we really got excited. I was surely almost to the cache. I had to contort my body in strange ways to continue to dig. Then, I saw a glimmer of light, just a glimmer, but it was there for sure. It never occurred to us that our cache, being underground, would be as dark as night. We had to stop since dark was rapidly approaching and we knew if we didn’t get home in time to clean up for supper, there would be no supper, only early bed time and restriction for a week. We both ran as if the very devil was chasing us and barely made the deadline. Georgie was going to spend the night with me since it was a Friday and we could get an early start the next morning.
When we awoke at sunrise on Saturday morning, we could hardly contain our excitement. We knew that this would be the day. We would leave my house poor as paupers and come home in the afternoon as multi-thousandaires. (In those days no one spoke of millions). Mother made us eat breakfast in spite of our protests. As we ran through the living room, Daddy called to us from behind his paper and reminded us that there was to be no running in the house. We slowed to a walk and as soon as we hit the sidewalk, we were off again knowing that by that afternoon we would have our own house and could run all we wanted to.
We got to the creek bank; I took the hubcap, squirmed into the hole, and started to dig. I was in the darnedest contortion that you could imagine seeming to constantly be drawn to the right. It was okay since I was right-handed and lying on my left side was the best digging position. As I dug there was more and more light and I became more and more excited. Suddenly, the dirt in front of me fell away and I looked up in awe and amazement to see Georgies’ face staring at me with sadness and disappointment filling his eyes. There might have even been a tear or two. I had dug a complete circle around the base of that huge pine tree. Sadly, there was no tunnel, no Confederate cache, no vast amount of treasure and we had to go home to our “no running rules” and “nickel a week allowance”. We were devastated.
How often do children dream of buried treasure? Everyone did in my childhood days. However, of greater interest to me today is why adults spend their time dreaming of treasures; digging in holes, going in circles hoping for that cache that would bring ultimate fulfillment only to come to the end of the tunnel and see Georgie’s face staring at you with sad, disappointed eyes. It is not Georgies’ face at all, but only our own face looking back from a mirror.
The truth is that treasures are all around us every day of our lives. Have you ever stopped to watch the sunrise through some high cumulus clouds or, if you are like me, a sunset? Who could seek a finer treasure? Flowers bloom in all around us. People plant wonderful flowerbeds and never stop to view the magnificent colors and inhale the incredible smells. Birds singing in the morning awaken us as they sing their love songs to hopeful mates and fledgling babies, do we stop and listen? Mornings, even the rainiest and gloomiest, awake us with a wonder that cannot be described or captured by the finest artists. These are the treasures that are free for the taking.
To awaken in the morning without pain is a treasure. To awaken in the morning with pain is a treasure. To breathe, to eat, to drink; all are treasures that we take for granted until we are denied them. Work is a treasure, medicine is a treasure, transportation is a treasure, electricity is a treasure, friends are a treasure, children are a treasure, and grandchildren might just be the treasure of all. Yet, if we aren’t careful we miss them while digging pointless holes in the ground seeking what can never bring true fulfillment.
Sometimes I want to scream, just stop! Stop digging, stop dreaming, stop seeking, and enjoy what is. Don’t mistake me, work is good, ambition is good, but the greatest things are ours free for our enjoyment. We must protect them, nurture them, and most importantly enjoy them. The greatest treasures in the world are free.