The treasure is in the journey

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

There is a box.

“A box,” I said aloud in quiet amazement as my Alabama cousin told me the story of the box, the small, metal box he and my older brother buried years and years ago in a field. Next to a fence, he recalled, in our very small town on a hot, summer day when there was nothing better for two little boys to do. How incredibly wonderful, I thought. A box.

We were at our family reunion, the one on my mother’s side where cousins come from Alabama and Georgia and gather in the church social hall for all things cooked in warm, tinfoil-covered casserole pans and fresh, smoked barbecue is served in an oversized iron skillet. Where catching up is comfortable and easy and the homemade lemon cake is a little slice of heaven on earth.

“We’re going to go find it. Are you in?”

What a silly question. Would I go tromping through woods full of knee-high briar brambles and chiggers and, I am certain, a disturbing assortment of other furry and slithery hungry critters on a hot, humid south Georgia Saturday afternoon? What kind of question was that? I was wearing flip flops, for God’s sake.

“Heck, yeah, I’m in!” I exclaimed, not so loudly, though, as to alert the masses of this wonderful adventure. Looking for a box buried some 40 years ago? Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?

“Y’all are crazy,” a sister said. “It’s too hot,” a cousin remarked. “You’re going to get eaten alive by mosquitoes,” my mother noted. “Do you even know what you’re looking for?,” some asked. “You’re wearing flip-flops,” another sister pointed out.

So, maybe I underestimated the excitement, but I didn’t care. We were going. A band of nine — the two original box buriers; their sons, now in college, and five other dreamers with a shovel — on a mission to find a box.

The ground crunched under our feet as my nephew led us through the woods, down barely-there trails that twisted through hardwoods and pines and surprise patches of bright green bamboo. Funny, my cousin realized aloud, how this nephew, my sister’s child, wasn’t even a thought to be born yet when this adventure began so long ago. Yet there he was, leading this crew of motley explorers.

There was a gate at one time, and a thick, wooden fence post — that much they remembered. Was there barbed wire? They weren’t sure. Was it to the left ... or maybe right? Through woods and field, dodging fire ant beds and tangled vines, we tromped hot and sweaty for nearly an hour. There was conversation, a blanket of childhood memories laid out across the hot, dry field, of days spent exploring and climbing and playing in dirt swept yards and riding bikes until dusk, of drinking water out of the hose and eating tomato sandwiches on white bread.

And then, there it was — not suddenly, but eventually. A sign. A spark. Some semblance of a gate that stood at another time and a fence post, a fat, wooden fence post wrapped in bramble and wire and caked in weeks and months and years of red clay.

“This is it, man. I know this is it,” I heard my cousin say and I caught the look in my brother’s eyes as his gaze settled on a tree not far away from where we all gathered.

“I used to climb that tree,” my brother said. That’s all it took.

As the shovel broke through dirt hardened by decades of wear, I realized it didn’t matter if they ever found the box at all. My cousin and my brother had found something better, a memory they could share with their sons. A rare, real trip back into a time gone by, one that once smelled like fresh dirt and felt like adventure. A better time? I don’t know.

A good time. That is for sure.

There is a box.

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.