By Harrington A. Lackey
Although Abby Wheelman’s now-deceased parents had wanted to give her a better, more prosperous life than they had, she was born into utter poverty Her father worked two shifts at the local coal mine. Her mother was a seamstress. Together, they barely made enough money to give their only child a high school education. Abby didn’t go to college, unlike her peers who grew up in more prosperous families. Instead, she worked as a tax collection agent, earning little money and even less respect.
At nineteen, Abby thought she had found happiness when she married Robert, a handsome, enterprising businessman who worked in advertising. During the first several years of their marriage, he slowly changed from a caring, loving husband to a verbally abusive, alcoholic bum, who loved other women. It got so he stayed home drunk all day. Abby worked as a check clerk at a local grocery store just to pay for her and her at-home, no-good husband. Not only did this job provide her with slightly extra income, but it also kept her away all day from Robert.
They didn’t have any children, which suited Abby fine; she just didn’t want to have Robert’s children. She just wanted him to die and go to hell. A year later, she got her to wish.
One night, after drinking heavily at a local bar, Robert was beaten by a bouncer because he couldn’t pay his forty-two dollar tab. After promising to pay it the next time, he got into his ’82 Pinto and struck another driver on the way home. Robert died as well as the victim.
Abby did not weep for him. As a matter of fact, she decided she would never again get married. She continued to work but could barely pay her bills and earned enough for only one meal a day. At 56, she developed arthritis and shingles and was bedridden for what seemed like an eternity. Gradually, she began feeling better after several months, thanks to only a few open-hearted friends and neighbours. Nevertheless, she was forced to declare bankruptcy.
She cried frequently, asking why life had dealt these horrible blows in her life. Was life against her? Were the forces of nature even there?
Abby worked a few more years until she could not work any longer. She was forced to sell what possessions she owned and moved to an old shack behind a house, located on an old ranch, owned by an older man Jim.
Jim told her she could stay in the shack for free, plus free meals provided that she took care of him. Abby gladly agreed to this arrangement. He gave her the money to help him do chores such as buying groceries, medicine, and gas for his car. She even cooked and cleaned his home.
This arrangement continued for two years until one day, Jim had something to discuss with her.
“I’m dying,” he said. Abby suddenly panicked. “I can’t give you this ranch, which I want you to have, but I don’t have a will.” Abby was not surprised. Like her, Jim told her he didn’t have any family. “However, what I can give you is what could be on this land.”
“This ranch has been in his family since the 1870s. My grandfather buried a jar of gold coins when he bought this land. He had the money buried because he didn’t trust a lot of people, especially bankers. To tell you the truth, I’m not completely sure this jar actually exists, but I’m going to let you look for it. If you can find it, you can keep the coins.”
Abby’s heart beat quickly. How could she find those gold coins?
“Do you know where the coins might be located?” Abby asked.
“Don’t know. Somewhere my grandfather probably kept a map, but I’m not sure it exists. You’re welcome to look for it. The attic might be a good place to start. I believe I have a metal detector, even though it’s probably as old as I am.”
After they finished talking, Abby ran upstairs to the attic to look for the map. The endeavour seemed almost impossible when she saw that the attic was completely filled with old newspapers, trunks, drawers and old clothes. She wondered that even if she could find the map, would she be able to understand it? Abby rifled through all of the drawers. Empty. She opened the trunks with crowbars and only found outdated dresses and men’s old suits. Then, she gathered all of the papers and put them in a pile. There were more than two-hundred pieces of paper which appeared to be personal letters. After searching them, she concluded none of them were maps of any kind.
Abby was exhausted. But just when she thought she had rummaged through the entire attic, she looked to her left and saw an old ledger from the 1930s. She slowly opened it and flipped through the pages. There was nothing but a few recorded purchased items.
She dropped the book to the ground and sighed. Then she again looked down at the ledger. A piece of old paper had fallen out. She picked it up and noticed a diagram written in ink. It showed a triangle. The three points of the triangle were labelled: “house”, “oak sapling”, and “X”.
Abby’s mouth turned upward into a smile when she saw the “X”. X must mark the spot, she thought. Each line was labelled in numbers of “ft.” The line from the “house” to the oak sapling was labelled 500 ft. The line from the tree to the X read 15 ft.
She walked out the back door to the house which overlooked most of the property. 500 feet to an oak sapling? That sapling would have grown into a large oak tree after 140 years. So she looked for an old oak tree located about 500 feet away. She scanned the horizon and saw several trees but they weren’t oak. But after looking more carefully, there was only one oak tree that was rather massive in diameter.
She ran to it. As she got closer, she wondered where the “X” might be located. Then she saw an old rotted piece of wood, sticking out of the ground ten feet away.
“That might be the place,” Jim said. Abby was startled when she heard his voice behind her. She turned around and saw him with a shovel in his hand. “You might need this.”
Abby was giddy as she took the shovel and dug diligently until the shovel hit something solid. She quickly knelt on the ground and ran her hands through the dirt. She felt something and raised a large, heavy glass jar with gold coins inside it.
“I found it!” she yelled. Jim was even more ecstatic; he really didn’t believe the coins actually existed. He didn’t tell it to Abby because he did not want to dash her hopes.
Jim hugged Abby. They walked quickly back to the house and poured the coins on a table in the kitchen. There were 50 shiny ten-dollar and 25 twenty-dollar gold coins, all dated before 1810-1870 in uncirculated mint condition.
Abby cried. All of her life, she had been a victim of life’s misfortunes. Now, her financial worries were going to be taken care of. He said, “We’ll get these coins appraised and get them to auction.”
Before reporters heard about the treasure, Jim had already contacted a highly regarded numismatist who kept their names anonymous. A word about the find became big news. Even the New York Times ran the story of a woman and an old man who found seventy-five gold coins contained in a jar by using an old map on a farm in Idaho. The story continued that the total sum of the coins at the auction amounted to $1.3 million.
Several months later, Jim died in his home. Before he died he found the deed to the house and gave it to Abby.