Hunting for treasure is the stuff of dreams for most of us. It certainly was for my daughter, Brittany, when we set out in search of Black Bart’s treasure cache—not the type you might expect.
We were renting a condo in Panama City Florida at the time. After a stealth shopping trip to Walmart to pick up a pack of light sticks, a yo-yo, a water pistol and an assortment of other toys, my wife, Dee Dee, and I placed everything in a plastic box, along with a handful of change. On the top of the box we wrote “Black Bart’s Treasure Chest” in bold magic marker letters, along with a crude version of the obligatory skull and cross bones. My son, Chris, and I then took our small boat over to Shell Island and buried the treasure. Now this might not be a treasure in your eyes, but I hoped it would be in my five -year-old daughter’s.
Back at the condo, I took a sheet of copy paper and drew a “pirate map.” After aging it by wadding it up and staining it brown with a little coffee, I taped it to the door of the condo.
When Brittany returned from the pool, she found the map, but she appeared skeptical that it was taped to the door (which in retrospect, I must admit was the weakest link in our scheme). I will confess that practical jokes run rampant in our family, so her cynicism was not too surprising. Anyhow, with more than a little urging, we got her in the boat and set out on our treasure hunt.
With the boat anchored in shallow water just off Shell Island in Panama City, Florida, we paced off a pattern of steps per the instructions on our map, and then dug through the soft sand. Brittany’s eyes bulged from her head when the edge of the plastic chest appeared, and she became an instant treasure hunting addict. After opening the chest she told her mother, “Boy those pirates sure knew what to put in their treasure chests!”
The next year found us in the Bahamas at Harbor Island, where we repeated the scheme, but for Pirate Pete’s treasure this time. Determined to address the weak link in my previous plan, I enlisted the help of the Bahamian bartender at the pool to deliver the map. When Chris took Britt to the pool, the kindly bartender motioned Britt over.
“You like pirate treasure, young lady?” she asked Britt with a twinkle in her eye.
“Sure!” Britt replied.
“Well, one of my customers left this treasure map in the bar. Would you like to have it?”
Britt snatched up the map, offering an enthusiastic “Thank you ma’am,” over her shoulder as she headed down the dock toward our boat, with Chris working hard to keep up.
“Dad, Dad,” I heard her yell as her skinny legs propelled her over the aged wooden dock, blonde hair steaming in her wake. “Look what I got! A real treasure map!” she said, thrusting it toward me.
I made a great show of examining it before pronouncing it a fake. “No way,” she protested. “Come on Dad, we’ve got to go look for the treasure. Please?”
After considering the matter for a moment, I replied, “Okay. Maybe tomorrow.”
“No, Dad; let’s go now. Please Dad?”
“Okay. But it’ll just be a waste of time.”
“No it won’t. You’ll see.”
A half hour later, we were on a nearby island pacing off the spot. As soon as we reached the location, she jumped in to start digging. A minute later, a plastic box emerged with “Pirate Pete’s Treasure” scrawled on the outside next to a skull and cross bones, of course.
“Ha! See I told you,” she exclaimed as she opened the box and found another assortment of treasures including some wrinkled Bahamian currency. “Wow! Guess you’re glad you listened to me, huh Dad?” I smiled and rubbed the top of her head as we headed back to the boat.
The last time we hunted for treasure with Britt, we placed the map in a bottle which Chris spotted on cue lying beside a log on the beach. Britt was almost as excited as before when we found the treasure. By this time, she was nearly eight and bright enough that I decided she might not fall for it again. So after three successful “treasure” hunts, I decided it was time to lay this activity to rest before she caught on and spoiled my fun.
Though she would often fondly recall the treasure hunts, we never discussed how they came to pass. I figured this was kind of like Santa when kids get older; she knew but preferred not to admit it and formally lose the magic.
About four years later, we were on a Disney cruise when the subject of treasure hunting came up, and I related our story to the family dining with us. My heart sank when Britt burst out, “You mean you did that?
Crap, I thought, realizing I had spilled the beans that had, much to my amazement, still been in the bag. I hated that I spoiled her fantasy, but we had had a good run. And as much as I regret it, my little girl does have to grow up.
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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