A few days ago my wife was taking my daughter and the children of some of our friends swimming at the pool in our neighborhood. I pulled a fast one and agreed to go with her, but threw my detector in the car. First chance I got, I ducked out of the pool area to detect around the playground that was right outside the pool area. I don’t think she noticed. Smooth move or bad father/spouse? You make the call.
Lots of kids were on the playground. I was careful to stay out of everyone’s way. Everyone in our neighborhood is really cool though so it was no big deal. I was hoping to maybe snag a piece of jewelry – digging in the 15-30 range on the e-Trac. This yielded me a bunch of trash. The place was, however, also littered with clad – plenty of dimes and quarters, too! I dug about three bucks of it up.
Soon the kids started to move in and see what I was getting out of the ground. I gave one of them a quarter, after being sure to ask his mother if it was ok to avoid being a creepy stranger. The kid ran around showing the dirty, grungy quarter proudly to everyone. Hey – I laughed to myself – I just went from being awkward to kind of cool.
I’d had enough clad and was walking out to a creek behind the pool area. Our neighborhood used to be part of a plantation – and the creek was shallow and lined with crumbling rock walls that had been built by hand long ago – probably with slave labor.
By now, word of the dirty quarter had travelled like wildfire across the pool area. One of my best friend’s boys, who was swimming with my daughter, chased me down, asking all kinds of questions about the detector. He wanted to swing it. I told him that would have to wait for another time, but if he’d check back with me in a while, perhaps I’d have something cool he could have.
I detected about an hour. I was in swim trunks and the mosquitos were unbelievable – even in the middle of a hot day. I finally had enough and decided to yield to them and return to the pool, defeated.
I saw my friend’s son in the distance coming to meet me. I felt a bit ashamed and disappointed that I didn’t have anything cool to show him. I’d let him down I guess. I imagined him going home and telling his dad what a stupid hobby metal detecting was, which made me kind of laugh.
When he was almost to me, he excitedly asked “Well, what did you find?”
“Nothing – just a bunch of junk.”
He eyed my finds pouch hanging from my belt. Darn. Well I guess I gotta show him something. I reached in and pulled out….
“Well umm, here’s an old key and some, uh, old shotgun shells that have been….”
He yelled. Loudly. I almost turned around to see if a monster had followed me out of the creek or something…
“Wow! WOW! THAT IS SO COOL!!! Can I see them?”
Stunned, I handed them over. He looked at each item individually and started describing the details “Hey this one has writing on it!” and telling me how he thought each of them may have ended up near the creek. “This could be the key to a treasure box.” and “Someone obviously was hunting for food a long time ago.”
Ok then. Heck, he was getting me excited. I reached back in the finds pouch and fumbled through the garbage, dirt and clad. “And I found this old knife”, I said as I pulled it out of the pouch. His eyes lit up like I had literally unearthed a cache of Confederate gold bars. “Wow! Hey everybody, look what he found!” The other kids soon gathered around and gawked enthusiastically at the old knife, the rusty shotgun shells, and the old key. They were chattering and pointing and all wanted to hold them. Suddenly, I felt like celebrating. I felt like taking a handful of the dirty clad coins out of my finds pouch and throwing them up in the air like confetti, but restrained myself.
Well, rusted shut or not, I wasn’t going to give a kid a knife. So I gave my friend’s son a couple of the shotgun shell / head stamps. He was unbelievably thankful, and looked at me like I was either crazy or super generous to give him some of the treasure that I had found.
Later his dad told me how excited he was about it – that he had went home and cleaned it, and had it displayed in his room. He asked about buying a detector for his son – and I promised to clean and fix up one of my old ones for him to use so he wouldn’t have to buy one.
At home after dinner, it suddenly dawned on me that I had just had a really fun hunt, even though I had not found anything I would consider to be all that good. Sure the old pocket knife was kind of cool, but I had just tossed it in my relics box. This was a really fun hunt because the kids made me see again – through my aging, jaded eyes – just how cool this hobby really is.
In my mind I drifted back to Indianola, Mississippi. It was January, 1982. I was 13 years old and in seventh grade. We lived with my aunt and uncle in a rural area a couple of miles north of town – old family land where my grandfather had grown up. I had found a few arrowheads the previous summer, and I collected coins – mostly by examining my family’s spare change. We didn’t have a lot of money to buy real collectible coins, but I had read about metal detectors and figured if I had one I might find some coins for my collection. I talked my parents into getting me a Micronta metal detector from Radio Shack for Christmas.
Two old abandoned houses were on the old land. I found a few wheat pennies at less than an inch under the old porch of one of them with the Micronta. I also found an 1897 Indian Cent under the house at a half-inch deep. Incidentally, as much hunting as I have done over the years, that Indian was the oldest coin I had ever found until just a couple of years ago.
Anyway, I was detecting one day right in front of the second abandoned house. In the area right under the front window, where I imagined a flowerbed had been years ago, I hit a signal. I dug about 4 inches and out popped this 1944 Walking Liberty Half dollar:
I sat there in shock looking at it in my dirty hand. This was my first silver coin. I couldn’t believe finding something like that was possible. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I couldn’t believe silver came out of the ground all nice and clean like that. I couldn’t believe that my coin collection now had a real silver half dollar in it!
I was so excited that I left the detector right there on the ground and ran the quarter-mile or so to the house to show my aunt. I had the silver coin in my hand-held high in the air. I am jumping randomly as I run. I am yelling. I can see and feel that memory very clearly in my mind – over thirty years later. I don’t know that I’ve ever been that excited at another time in my entire life. And so just like that I was hooked – forever.
Detecting with those kids the other day made me realize that a hunt isn’t a failure or a skunk just because you didn’t find a silver coin, or a civil war relic, or a piece of jewelry. Many of the things we dig out of the ground that we see as mundane or that we scoff at as junk are, in fact, historical artifacts. We are digging history. We are recovering lost remnants of ages and people long gone. Each of these items has a history and has a story to tell. A child can see this. All finds are exciting to a child. And they should be exciting to all of us. Going forward, I’m not going to let my detecting goals and my standards for what I consider to be “keepers” and “treasure” dictate whether or not a particular hunt is successful.
…and I am going to make time to show my friend’s kid how to use the detector, and take him somewhere where he can find something that really might make his head explode.
Best of luck on your next hunt!
– Eyes of a Child: ©iStockphoto
– Rusty Knife et al: Property of D365 – use it as you wish but link it back to detecting365.com
– 1944 Walking Liberty Half Dollar: D365