Yesterday's Magazette

7 – The Coin

The Coin

By Ned Burke


Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but I proved him wrong. I not only returned home, I also found a piece of me that I had buried in the hills of Pennsylvania decades before.

It was March of 1977 when I had the sad task of telling my three small children I was going to move to Florida. Their mother and I had been divorced for over five years and I was beginning to feel like an outsider to my kids.

Of course I enjoyed the precious time we spent together, but I realized they had a new dad now. So when an opportunity for a job in Florida came my way, I thought it would be for the best if I moved south.

It was a cold, somber day when I took them for our last customary walk around Lake Scranton, a picturesque body of water near my home. We walked silently for some time, just taking in the scenery and breathing the crisp March air.

When I stopped and gazed at the still frozen lake, a gust of wind went through my body, chilling me to the bone. I felt numb. But I knew it wasn’t the weather. It was the cold reality of knowing I would soon be leaving my children. I was frozen in time, thinking how I wanted to give them something, some small part of me to remember. But, in truth, I had little to give them, except for the few coins in my pocket.

I had three pennies and a nickel. I handed the pennies to my kids and instructed them to bury the coins under a nearby rock, sort of like a buried memento of that day. I buried the nickel under a larger boulder near a curved pine tree, close to the water’s edge. As a symbolic gesture in keeping with a burial, I reached way back under the huge rock and placed three small stones,like headstones, atop my five-cent piece.

After we finished the ceremony, I gave each of them a big hug. “I hope you will remember this day and won’t ever forget me,” I said, trying to control the tear in my voice. They gave me a group hug and said they would never forget. But I honestly didn’t take their vow seriously. They were young; they had many more memories and more exciting days ahead of them. I figured in time they would forget the significance of that moment. I alone would remember it, I thought, and I choked with emotion whenever that day played back in my mind.

But I was wrong.

In the fall of 1997, twenty years after that farewell burial of the coins, I finally returned to my hometown. By that time my children had grown and had children of their own. I was married again and my wife Carrillee accompanied me back to Pennsylvania. She loved the story of the buried coins and thought it would be fun to search for them.

However I gave the idea little chance of success after so many years. Besides, what good would it do? It was just a sentimental gesture that probably meant more to me than anyone else. I was the only one who still clung to such foolish nostalgic memories, I reasoned.

While visiting with my daughter who still lived there I mentioned the coins and to my surprise she remembered that day. In fact, she said she and her two brothers went back several times to Lake Scranton in search of the pennies and the nickel. But they never found the buried treasure from their past. She said it was their connection to me and they felt bad in not finding those lost coins. She said the pennies had probably been washed into the lake but she believed the nickel might still be there. I told her I would stop by Lake Scranton on my way home to Florida. But just knowing my children had not forgotten me or that day was worth all the buried treasure in the world.

As I promised, I stopped at Lake Scranton and walked with Carrillee around the lake just as I had done with my children decades before. It was a sunny day and the air was fresh. Crisp twigs crunched beneath our shoes as we made our way along the edge of the water in search of some old, long-forgotten landmark. After an hour, I gave up and asked Carrillee to rest with me. I told her it was no use. Everything had changed. Nothing looked the same to me.

There were more trees, more large boulders, more vegetation than I remembered. Then she stopped and pointed to my right, about twenty yards away, where a huge boulder nestled itself against an aging, curved pine tree, like a child in his father’s protective arms. I knew immediately it was the hiding place I had visited with my children so long ago.

Feverishly we dug beneath the boulder for what seemed like hours until I had to give up from exhaustion. It was getting dark, but Carrillee continued to dig. Her small hands frantically fingered through clumps of dirt much like someone feverishly panning for gold. I was about to pull her away from her futile search and head home when she screamed, “I found it!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Beneath three small stones, embedded in grass roots, was an old rusty coin. There was no doubt about it; she had found my nickel! As I held it in my hand, all the emotion of that day so long ago came rushing back. I didn’t know what to say. I brushed away a tear and mumbled, “Thanks.”

When I told my children of the discovery they too were overjoyed because they knew what that nickel meant to us–it was the part of me I’d left behind in Pennsylvania many years ago.

So, sorry Mr. Wolfe, you can go home again.

1 Comment »

  1. nicely written. a good story

    Comment by georgia peach — November 1, 2008 @ 10:42 pm | Reply


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