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Life in Retirement: On the hunt for hidden treasure


There was a tiny ledge above the highest shelf of our kitchen cupboards growing up, where strange and unusual things were kept. Like the gallstones my mom brought home in a jar after her surgery in the 1970s, and the plastic-wrapped and yellowed top layer of their 1953 wedding cake. Sometimes there was Halloween candy purchased in advance and stashed up there so no one would find it, unless you were an inquisitive child like I was.

My siblings and I always seemed to be on the prowl for buried treasure. We figured in that modern era of the 1960s and 70s, treasure could be buried in the most mundane places. We would look everywhere for things someone might have hidden – the backs of dresser drawers, the tops of high closets and the lowest rungs on the cellar shelves.

We scrutinized our grandfather’s old rolltop desk, in the unlikely event that it might hold some sort of secret to our nana’s lost leg. Yup, we were strange children. But Nana had been run over by a train when she was very young and needed to have her leg amputated – that’s a whole other story, of course. Ghost stories also played a big part in our childhood lore, and we were convinced that desk was haunted. Plus, the desk was locked by a mysterious old-fashioned key – what could be more tantalizing to imaginative minds!

Our other grandma had an amazing attic at the top of her old Victorian home in what is now a fashionable district in Calgary. It would be accessed, with permission and only on special occasions, by opening a tiny door, climbing a long flight of narrow stairs, and bravely pulling a string to turn on a bare bulb high above. There was a large section of that level that we were never to enter, because we were told we could fall right through the floor. But there were three small doors at the far end of that danger zone and, of course, through the years the person who drew the short straw was made to walk gingerly toward them. Even though we all did our part at one time or another, prepared to be sacrificed for whatever huge discovery was to be made, none of us ever made it fully across.

But the little room that we were allowed to enter provided sufficient reward. It was filled with typical things you would expect in an old attic: scrapbooks, linens, photos, dollies, and piles of books and newspaper clippings. We spent hours in there pouring over all the information, looking for clues of any kind that we were hot on the trail of something grand. In the end, it really was just a jumble of ordinary things.

There was one full spread in the local daily newspaper of The Queen’s wedding from 1947, which I read over and over each time I was up there. When I was a teenager, I finally asked if I could have it. Strangely, I don’t remember ever reading it again once I got it home, but it did get packed away and moved wherever I went after that. It surfaced again one day, when I was all grown up and living in an old house with a bunch of other young people while we all went to college. We were all looking at it and laughing at how strange things were back then, when we found an advertisement for a house for sale for $27,000. It was literally just around the corner from where we were living, so of course we all walked over and knocked on the door, giddily telling the confused people who answered that we were interested in purchasing their home.

Once the joke was shared and we chatted for awhile, I left the newspaper with them. A long journey for a paper that became a treasure for someone else.

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