Our leader stepped out of our vehicle and hoisted his body-length shovel to his shoulder. “This way,” he shouted with enthusiasm and vigor.
We followed, carrying pails and trowels and shovels of our own. We were a ragtag bunch, but we had confidence in our leader as we slowly traversed the creaky wooden platform to the hot sand below. We removed our shoes and walked barefoot until we reached the light green-blue waters at the edge of the beach.
The sound of the waves lapping slowly onto the shore soothed our intense energy. We were prepared for the task at hand. We had studied the map, read the lore, and spoke to locals who knew the stories of the pirate Gasparilla.
Gasparilla’s exploits were not as well researched in this part of Florida, but our uncovered evidence assured us that we would be looking in the right place: The Three Stumps.
Legend has it that, for fear of mutiny, Gasparilla left his crew and buried a separate treasure somewhere along the shores of Clam Pass’s mangrove swamp.
We hustled along the beach as fast as we could, waves washing away any evidence of the arrival and departure of each step. “There it is!”
The worn edges of the mangrove swap spilled onto the beach as the Gulf of Mexico gave way to a small river, pulling in the tides and washing them away while birds and spiders played within the rotted trees.
“This has to be the place!” our leader announced and slowly brought his 3-foot, red plastic shovel to the sand.
“There, there’s a stump!” the second in command pointed. “It has the X, just like the picture.”
“Get the book, let’s look,” the leader said to me as I lowered my sack and pulled out the tattered thrift shop find, Pirates in Naples.
I read: Fearing a revolt by his men, the famous pirate Gasparilla crept off his ship and hid a treasure-trove of gold and jewels by the Three Stumps at the foot of Clam Pass. Next to the words was a picture of three stumps at this very place. The third had a giant X drawn in red Sharpie over the photograph.
“Dig,” the leader shouted.
We dug next to the first stump. Nothing. The second stomp. Nothing. The third stump, my small plastic yellow hand shovel hit something solid.
“Here!” my seven-year-old shouted as he tossed his spade onto the nearby beach towel.
He and my four-year-old dove to their knees and with hands and fingers, scooped the surrounding sand until they uncovered the blue marble chest buried in the soggy brackish shore.
Slowly, we treasure hunters watched as my child pulled off the lid, revealing gold and silver coins hidden beneath. Red and green plastic gems sparkled in the brilliant sunlight.
“We’re rich, we’re rich,” the two shouted as they held up each trinket to study. Gold necklaces bought at the local dollar store, beads from the craft store, and coins found at the nearby five-and-dime were, indeed, priceless.
You see, my father had lovingly shopped for each accessory to place it into the thrift store jewelry box he found. He bought a book and added the appropriate clues. My father imaged what it must be like to be seven once again, and as best he could, he created a fortune that money cannot buy. Instead, he crafted a memory with love and thoughtfulness.
For several years, my oldest would visit his treasure, imagining what it would be like to one day spend it, knowing, as he aged, that the spending would never be as much fun as the finding.