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James R. Stout

The Treasure Chest

            It was early September of 1963. I had just turned 8 years old and my older sister promised me something special for my birthday. Our family was living in an old wood frame house in Bryan, Texas awaiting my parents to find a permanent home after moving to Bryan in May of that year. The house was a modest home most likely built in the 1930’s. Behind the house was a strip of woods about 50 feet wide and it ran behind the houses all the way down the block. It was a great place to play. A neighbor friend and I would play “Combat” and pretend to be fighting the Germans in WW2.

            The day after my birthday my sister told me that my birthday surprise was ready. She had gone to great links to fill a small plastic treasure chest with pennies, nickels, and dimes. It was money that she had earned babysitting. Thinking back on it now, it was an incredibly sweet thing for her to do. She had hidden the treasure chest somewhere in that strip of woods behind our house and my job was to find it. I had a blast searching under bushes and in low hanging tree limbs. With each stop my excitement grew. Finally, after about 20 minutes of searching I found the treasure chest. Yo-ho-ho! I lifted the little clasp on the plastic chest and looked inside. I was speechless when I saw the pile of coins. To tell the truth, it probably wasn’t more than $2.

            Now I’m going to tell on myself. As glad as I was to get this sweet gift, I was disappointed to see that most of the coins were older coins rather than shiny new coins. Shiny new coins just seemed to be better to me at the time. But the old coins would spend just the same. That night before bedtime I sat on my bed and emptied the chest of its treasure and looked over my loot. There were several Indian head nickels from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Three or four Liberty Dimes several decades old, a couple of Indian head pennies from the 1910’s, several pennies from the 1930’s and 1940’s, a steel penny from 1943, and a couple of Barber Quarters from the 1910’s. And yes, there were a few new 1963 pennies, nickels, and dimes. Those dimes were still silver dimes in those days.

            I’d love to tell you that I saved all of those coins as keepsakes, but that’s just not what an 8-year-old does. No, I bought a balsa wood glider airplane, the newest issue of “The Flash” comic book, candy that probably helped create my first cavities, and one of those paddle balls. Over the years I’ve thought about that event in my life a lot. Now that I’m a month away from being 65 and 57 years older than I was then, I’d like to share a few insights about it with you.

            First, how unselfish was it that my sister, a mere 13-years-old, gave her mostly bothersome little brother a gift without being prompted by a parent? I must tell you that the older that I get the more I come to appreciate my two sisters. We lost Barbara 2 years ago and I miss talking to her, hearing her voice, listening to her thoughts, hearing her beautiful singing voice, and just spending time with her. My other sister Debbie is just as incredibly sweet and a pure joy to still have in my life. Debbie is the last person alive that shares many of the unique memories of places and events in our young lives.

            Second, those coins were merely a way to obtain a few momentary pleasures for an 8-year-old boy. But thinking back on it now and remembering those coins I realize that the old coins were so much more valuable than the new ones. Kind of like life in itself. We love the children, especially our grandchildren, because they are ours, they are shiny and new, they give love without thinking about it, and we live vicariously through them. But the old friends and family, as well as elderly strangers, have lived such rich lives. Those old coins passed through the hands of thousands of people, became worn, and the shine was lost. The elderly may not be computer savvy, able to walk faster than a turtle on valium, and remember what day it is, but they have experienced years of life that we haven’t yet. They have become worn and their wrinkles and gray hair are evidence of that, but each wrinkle and gray hair added to their wisdom and their worth. They have learned so much by meeting thousands of people from all walks of life.

            Now, you may be thinking that I’m an old guy trying to boost his standing in the eyes of the young. Wrong. Even though I’m nearly 65, I’m not “old”. I was in the grocery store today, all masked-up and making my way down the dairy aisle. Just ahead of me was a woman that is likely in her 80’s. Well, she made me feel young is what she did! She wanted a carton of milk from a shelf too high for her to reach. She was stooped over and obviously unable to reach it. I may not be the spry young man that I once was, but I happily got that carton of milk for her. My reward? The prettiest smile in the world. I lost Mom two months after Barbara in 2018. This lady could have been Mom. The doggone masks kept us from having a conversation.

            Thinking about it all now, the years gone by, the people now gone, the grandchildren who fill my life with love, I realize that I have a truly special treasure chest now. As great as that plastic chest filled with coins was in 1963, this new treasure chest is filled with love. It’s not made of plastic. It’s made of pure gold. And, I’m keeping the treasures inside the chest this time.

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