A last vacation post…
One would think that in an environment filled with literally thousands of these:
a young boy’s attention would be sufficiently diverted from the fantasies that define him to the reality that surrounds him. Not so for my son. If a vacation allows for anything, it is that opportunity to become someone else for a small amount of time. For me, that someone else was a beach bum. For him, it was a treasure hunter.
And he was after treasure. Not the normal sort of treasure, either. Gold bullion and precious jewels weren’t enough, oh no. What he wanted—what he was determined to find—were the remains of Blackbeard’s ship.
He knew we were generally in the right place—in 1996, archaeologist’s discovered the remains of the Queen Anne’s Revenge just a few miles down the road—and he arrived with the proper equipment. The two plastic buckets would be enough to haul his findings, he said. The two corresponding plastic shovels would be enough to dig them. And the metal detector he borrowed from his grandfather would be enough to find them.
The plan was foolproof.
The remains of Blackbeard’s ship were nowhere to be found. Plastic buckets and shovels would be of limited use, but still more than a metal detector finding a wooden boat. Those were the facts, facts I kept concealed from him. Because as any child knows about finding treasure, facts have little value. He was determined, my son, and I was determined to help him.
We set out early each morning (“We gotta get out there before anyone else finds it,” he told me). Just the two of us along the lonely beach, he with the green pail and I with the pink, because, as he said, “Boys don’t carry pink stuff, but daddies can.” We roamed among the shells and the surf, watched the dolphins and the turtles, and watched for treasure.
It was slow going, as was intended. My son inherited both my looks and my impatience—two things that will no doubt curse him for life—but we learned tolerance together that week. We understood the value of taking our time and looking.
Each day we would return for breakfast with our pails full, though of shells rather than wood. Neither of us were disappointed in our failure; by then we’d learned that venturing out together, talking and laughing and dodging the waves, could be described as many things but never failure. And we told stories as men of the sea are inclined to tell, accounts of big fish that were really small and entire planks of Blackbeard’s wood that were snatched by the tides before we could snatch them. And each night at bedtime we would recount our day together and end it with the promise that the next day his treasure would be found.
For five mornings, we looked. Pails at our side, eyes cast downward, only to return with pails of conch shells and scallops.
His steadfast countenance was failing. We were leaving the sixth day, which meant only one more walk, and by then he’d figured out the metal detector would be useless. I told him not to worry, that treasure is one of those things that are usually found when one isn’t looking at all, but he didn’t believe me.
We searched long that last morning. Walked longer, too. To the very tip of the island, where the ocean met the sound in a mash of tides and waves. We’d agreed not to pick up any shells that day and focus our attention better. By the time we neared our temporary home, our pails were empty.
I was preparing the sort of disappointment-will-happen speech that fathers hate to give when he shot out to my left and picked up something from the sand. He yelled (“Here it is! I found it!”) and ran back to my side. Then he showed me this:
A piece of driftwood. Utterly plain and worthless. Those are the facts, facts I kept concealed from him. Because as any child knows about finding treasure, facts have little value. He was determined, my son, and I was determined to help him.
That piece of driftwood now proudly sits on my son’s dresser. He looks at it every day. It’s his treasure, he says. Found on the beach with his father.
Me, I say it’s treasure, too. Utterly unique and priceless. I hope he guards it well.
And I will guard the treasure I found that day as well. It too is unique. Priceless. Not a piece of wood, not a pretty shell. Just this: