Somewhere down south, nestled in the Appalachian foothills, there’s a small town called Old Hundred. Main street consists of a general store, a barber shop, a town hall, and a chapel. It boasts a population of 173 citizens (not including Mrs. Simpson’s upcoming eighth child). They fly the flag proudly, root for the home team, and watch each other’s backs. But the gang of kids in Old Hundred is constantly up to mischief: so grab a sweet tea an’ I’ll give a few examples!
Two Shovels and a Cow
One day it was summer, the next; it was fall. That was what the calendar said. But a calendar in Old Hundred, a little town somewhere down south, doesn’t always readily comply with the weather outside. It was (to the shock of some newcomers from Vermont) the exact same as it had been all throughout the summer—hot.
Unfortunately, one thing did change. School started up again, and two little boys who never left each other’s side suddenly found themselves in the third grade. One was nervous and a bit lost, the other sauntered in perhaps more confident than he should have been.
One particular Saturday the weather changed its mind abruptly, and the cloudless sky and carefree breeze beckoned the young chums outside. They were fresh from a night at Tad’s Aunt Carol’s house, and after a hurried bowl of grits for each, they bounded outside and brainstormed for the best way to spend the day. It didn’t take long for a lightbulb to form. Armed with imaginations, shovels, and fresh molasses cookies, they started walking.
“Where are we going?” asked Noah.
“We’re going to find some buried treasure,” Tad replied resolutely. He carried each shovel over both his shoulders as staunchly as if they were loaded muskets.
Noah gingerly shifted the package of cookies under his arm. To him, that was the treasure. And Aunt Carol had just handed it to them, no digging required. “We don’t even have a map. How do you find buried treasure without a map?”
“We dig,” grinned Tad. “I say we find the least likely place and start there.” The breeze playfully swished his dark, wavy hair and gave his eyes a mischievous sparkle. His upturned nose and spray of freckles besides finished off the effect of an impish elf.
Noah was skeptical of his friend’s plan, but decided that a Saturday this nice probably shouldn’t be spoiled with particulars. Winking through the leaves above him, the sun played tricks on his straight, strawberry blond hair. Noah took a great, deep breath of the sharp, cool air and a healthy glow entered his pale face.
“Over here!” Tad was already astride a fence, ready to enter an old cow pasture and leave the shady trail.
“You’re sure we can go in there? Isn’t it trespassing?” asked Noah.
“Sure, I’m sure! Been in here dozens of times.” Tad hopped down on the other side, shovels clanging. “It’s ol’ man McDonald’s place. He doesn’t use it for anything anymore, so we won’t be botherin’ anybody.”
Noah very carefully scaled the fence, holding the precious package out of the way so as not to crush it. Tad was already halfway up the slope, looking around thoughtfully. “Alrighty,” he drawled. “Right here’s good as anyplace. Nobody’d ever think of pirates hidin’ booty here!”
“Then why did we?” Noah was puzzled.
“Because pirates don’t really want their treasure to be found!” Tad said deliberately. “They put it in the places nobody’d think to look—like in the middle of an old cow pasture. Only geniuses like us are able to track it down. Here! Take a shovel.”
So they began to dig. The soil was sandier here in the open pasture, and easier to lift. Before they knew it, the boys had excavated a good amount. The sun was climbing higher, and the friends became dirtier and sweatier as time went on. After such a long time, Noah started to get discouraged, and stopped more often to wipe the grime from his face. Tad was relentless.
All at once, he let out a whoop. Noah sprang up and they bent low over an oddly shaped object caked in soil. Tad reverently picked it up and wiped it off—then threw it away disgustedly.
“All that work—for a cowbell?” This time he speared the ground with his shovel and flopped down beside Noah. “Those pirates sure were crafty. They just knew I’d look here!”
“Hey, Tad—maybe let’s play something else now.” Noah was looking at the hole and grinning.
Tad didn’t see anything to be grinning about. “Why should we? I’d rather find some buried treasure.”
“Well,” prodded Noah, “Look how big our hole is! If we kept digging, we could make it into a cave to play all sorts of things in.”
Tad jumped up. “Hey, yeah! We could be a band of outlaws, hiding out in the wilderness!”
They grabbed their shovels once again, and made dirt fly. By the time Noah remembered the molasses cookies, they had made such a hole that both little boys could just stand up in it and walk around. It was late afternoon by now, and their stomachs had stopped them before they had dug a tunnel to the other side of the hill. Tad boosted out Noah, who returned with his real treasure—cookies. They found the coolest part of the hole to sit in and munched away happily.
“Wow, what a day!” rejoiced Tad. “Maybe after school we could bring Willy and Curt over and make it even bigger!”
After each had downed nearly half a dozen cookies, they were ready to begin work on an underground cavern. Then Noah stopped.
“Tad, I’m awfully thirsty,” he said faintly.
His friend was no better. “We’d better go back to Aunt Carol’s,” he said. “We can come back later.” So they crumpled up the paper and set about the task of covering their precious creation. Tad wrenched a few rotten timbers from the old fence and threw them across the gap. Noah gathered some dead leaves and straw from the woods and they spread it over the boards.
“Perfect,” pronounced Tad. “Nobody’ll notice—or get in.” They shouldered their shovels and marched home.
After a bath for each, they parted ways until the next day in church. They meant to summon their friends on Monday and make their cave into a network of tunnels under the pasture. But that plan was stopped short. After the morning service the next day, when the friends were excitedly making plans, they overheard Mr. McDonald talking loudly to the other farmers.
“I tell you, it ‘twas the most mysterious thing,” said he. “A great big hole, a great big pile of dirt. Came out of nowhere in the night! All ‘twas over it were some rotten boards and straw. Ol’ Blossom must’a never have seen it! I was sittin’ at the breakfast table with the wife when I hear this bawlin’; I ran out there; next thing I knew it was Blossom in the hole, head stickin’ out, yellin’ for all she was worth. The poor thang twasn’t hurt—just mad. But that hole, I tell you—”
Tad and Noah stared at each other in horror. “I thought you told me Mr. McDonald didn’t use the pasture anymore!” Noah stared at Tad with shocked gray eyes.
The other boy threw up his hands, spluttering. “I didn’t know! I didn’t—honest!” He suddenly looked like a scared rabbit. “We gotta get outta here, Noah! What if Mr. McDonald figures it was us? He’ll tan our hides!” He was out of the double doors and down the church steps in a minute.
Noah marched right after him and grabbed his arm. “We’ve got to go apologize, Tad,” he said firmly.
Tad’s hair stood on end. “Noah—now wait a minute—I didn’t know—the cow wasn’t hurt—I tell you I had no idea—”
“It don’t matter. We’ve got to own up to it. I should have stopped you—we should’ve asked first! Come on, let’s go.”
Noah felt courage seeping out of him as he dragged Tad up to the crowd of farmers in the far corner of the chapel. What would Mr. McDonald do, after all? He had no way of knowing.
For once, the outspoken dairy farmer seemed at a loss for words. He was surprised, even laughed a bit, then stared at them. Noah thought maybe the whole thing seemed rather strange to him. Tad hoped they’d be able to get off the hook and escape. But no such luck; Aunt Carol happened to learn the story and was more shocked than surprised. By that afternoon, both sets of parents knew about the escapade. As it turned out, for the whole week Noah and Tad would be very busy after school—doing the opposite of what they had planned.
Late Friday afternoon, Tad used his damp shirt to wipe the film of sweat from his face. September weather in Old Hundred seemed to be extra finicky that year, and had changed its mind just in time to beat down hot, unrelenting sun on the busy workers. It was the fifth and last day of restitution on Mr. McDonald’s dairy farm, and the boys had just finished scrubbing out the cows’ slimy watering bin and filling it with fresh water. Noah turned off the hose and they both gazed at the cool, inviting water still swishing in the trough.
“Boys! If y’all are finished out there, I’ve got fresh squeezed lemonade waitin’ for you in the kitchen!” Their dreams were interrupted by Mrs. McDonald’s voice coming from across the barnyard. They looked at each other and simultaneously decided lemonade was far better than swimming in a watering trough, any day.
As they trooped towards the sprawling white farmhouse, Tad looked over his shoulder and looked wistfully at the farthest hill. It hid the old pasture which was occupied by a freshly filled hole and repaired fences.
“I still think there was some treasure in that hole,” he said, scowling.
Noah still thought the molasses cookies had been more valuable than anything they would have found, but said nothing. As they passed the door of the monstrous red barn, Tad stumbled over something which lay hidden in the dust. He picked it up and abruptly whooped.
“Hey, maybe we didn’t have to dig so much, after all, Noah!” He thrust the object towards him.
The other boy didn’t seem as impressed. “It’s just a horse shoe, Tad. It probably fell from above the door of the barn.”
Tad didn’t seem to hear him. He pitied Noah for not having found any treasure himself, and carefully wiped off his discovery. All the way to the house he was picturing how it would look above the door to his bedroom.
(And they all had some lemonade.)
P.S. “Adventures in a Small Town Down South” is a series of short stories I will be posting periodically on my blog. The majority of these tales are based off many of the boyhood adventures of my grandfather that he related to my family. These accounts are so full of my grandpa’s humor and lovable quirks that they fit perfectly with a quaint town I had swirling around in my head. So, the plots for most of these stories are not my own, but are my grandpa’s. I have supplied the characters and fluff n’ stuff. Enjoy!