By: Jim Manniso
I would sit on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, and watch this man walking slowly along the hot sands and shoreline. He would rhythmically swing his "cane" back and forth, back and forth like a blind man groping to find his way. But, this man was not sightless. And his "cane" was an instrument to see hidden things that were buried beneath the sand.
One day while I was watching the man strolling along the beach and moving his magical "cane" back and forth, back and forth, he suddenly stopped in his tracks as a 'beep, beep, beep' emitted from his instrument. The man, then, bent down and began to dig in the sand with a small, yellow plastic shovel. He scooped up a clump of sand and then moved the halo of the instrument across the clump that rested on the blade of the toy shovel. Again, a series of 'beeps' sounded. The man then fingered through the clump of sand and extracted an object that had been hidden in the clump. He then went over to the shoreline and washed the object in the surf. With a look of discovery, he held the object above his eye level to get a good look at this mysterious treasure.
Filled with excitement I ran over to the man and asked, "What did you find, Mister?" He proudly showed me his find. It was just an old, rusted bottle cap! I was so disappointed to see that it was just an old bottle cap - and in my disappointment I blurted out, "Is that all you found!?"
My disappointment stemmed from the vision I had that he had found a treasure of great value, perhaps a gold coin. The man smiled and reaching into his pocket pulled out some interesting objects: a metal toy soldier, an embossed "Wildwood, NJ" pen-knife and a number of other interesting objects. But, to my dismay - no gold coins. Seeing my disappointment, the man then reached into another pocket of his pouch and brought out a small gold cross and chain. The cross and chain sparkled in the sunlight as he held it up for me to see. As I looked at that gold, sparkling in the sun, a strange tingling feeling came over me, a malady that I would later come to know as "Gold Fever." From that day to this, I was and am wonder-struck with "Gold Fever."
I was twelve years old at the time I had this experience on the beach and contracted "Gold Fever." I became enthralled with the thought of searching for treasures in the sand. However, at twelve I didn't have the means to buy a metal detector. I made up my mind that I would sell newspapers on the boardwalk until I could earn enough money to buy one. But, I just couldn't wait until I had enough money to buy the metal detector and I was anxious to start my treasure hunting. The "Fever" would not let me wait.
I decided I could start my "Treasure Hunting" sooner if I constructed a sieve. It was a one foot by two foot box that I made from the wood of an old orange crate. To the bottom of the box, I nailed a coarse screen that had quarter inch openings.
Now, my "Treasure Hunting" could begin. Early each morning I would go to the beach and sift where most of the people congregated the day before. I would move from spot to spot, sifting and sifting, but to my dismay I found only worthless objects such as cigarette and cigar butts; small, broken pieces of toys; soggy, sandy peanut butter sandwiches and yes, rusty, old bottle caps - but no gold coins.
By late morning, the beach was getting crowded with bathers. The sand was hot and in the blaring sun I felt like a little brown Gunga Din in the Saharan Desert. The heat of the day, though, did not diminish my quest for gold. The heat of the day and the crowd on the beach drove me to seek shade underneath the boardwalk. There, in the cool shade underneath the boards, I would continue my quest for gold. I would sift and sift and sift. To my amazement, sifting under the boardwalk became much more productive. Here, I would almost always find some pennies, nickels, and dimes that had fallen through the cracks between the boards above.
Every day for weeks I sieved, until one lucky day, to my surprise and delight, I captured something very special. On this lucky day, when I was sifting though the sand in the noonday sun, a sparkle in the sieve caught my eye. A closer inspection proved to be something of value. This was the treasure that quenched my thirst, lit up my eyes and caused my heart to pound with quick report. "I found it! I found it! I found it!"
Like a genie rising from the bottle of its captivity and promising great riches to its discoverer, my genie also promised great riches to me. As the sand quickly flowed through the sieve, this glistening object became exposed from the sand of its captivity. There, left in the sieve was "The Gold Ring." My heart raced with excitement as I told myself, "I'm rich! This gold ring has great worth." At least this is what my twelve year old mind was telling me.
With sieve in hand and the gold ring securely in my pocket, I started running as fast as I could toward home. I just could not wait to tell my Mother about my treasure. Finally, I bolted up the wooden stairs to our third floor apartment. Almost out of breath, I busted through the screen door, shouting "Mom! Mom! I found a gold ring!" Again, I shouted, "Mom! Mom! I found a gold ring!" My Mother came running to my shouts responding, "Jimmy, What's the matter?" Excitedly, I reached into my pocket and clutched the gold ring. My Mother was as excited as I was as I opened my hand to display my gold ring, my new found treasure.
My Mother, Clara, said, "Jimmy, that is a beautiful ring!" Together, we examined it. It was a large ring, probably belonging to a man. We found that it was a signet ring with a seal and initials engraved into the precious gold. I asked my Mother, "How much do you think this ring is worth?" But, before she could answer, I said, "A thousand dollars?" In 1947, to me, a thousand dollars was all the money in the world. My Mother said she did not think it was worth that much, but then she said, "To the owner of this ring it is probably priceless."
I said, "Mom! What do you mean? I am the owner of this ring."
My Mother kindly said, "No, Jimmy, the ring belongs to the person who lost it."
I said, "Mom! In the treasure hunting business, its finder's keepers, loser's weepers."
My Mother said, "Jimmy, that's just it! The person who lost this ring is weeping, too. This ring surely has sentimental value and the owner must be very sad. We must find him and let him know we found his treasured ring and return it." I protested and wept for a while, but I knew in my heart that my Mother was right. The next day, my Mother had the information put in the Lost and Found section of the local newspaper.
Feeling so disappointed, I didn't go treasure hunting for a long time, but I did continue to sell newspapers on the boardwalk. Any thoughts of treasure hunting was abated, at least for a time. So, for the time being, I concentrated my efforts on selling papers. I would shout as loud as I could, "Get your papers here!" "Get your papers here!" Each time a man stopped to buy a paper, I would think, "Is he the one? Is this the man who could have lost the ring."
One day a man bought a paper from me. He, then walked to a bench across from my paper stand. I watched, as he sat and quickly thumbed through the paper. He was obviously looking for something specific in a certain section of the paper. "Holy Smokes! I found it!" the man suddenly shouted. People abruptly stopped and looked at the man shouting, "I found it!"
I was astonished and thought this could be the man who lost the ring! "Could this be possible," I asked myself "that of all the papers sold, I would be the one to sell the paper to the man who lost the gold ring." I jumped up, leveling my pile of newspapers as I ran over to the man who was so exuberant with excitement. I said, "Mister, I found your ring." He looked at me as if I were crazy and asked, "What ring?"
I said, "The gold ring. I found it in the sand."
He said, "I did not lose a gold ring, but I found my dog that was lost." "Look!" he said. "My dog is in the Lost and Found section."
A little embarrassed, I said, "Oh!" and turned to go back to the paper stand, feeling a little disappointed but also lucky. Lucky, because the ring was mine ~ at least for now. The deal that I had made with my Mother was that the ad would run for three days. If the owner did not contact us by the end of the third day, the ring would be mine to keep. However, I felt that a bad omen had struck with my possession of the gold ring. This bad omen came in the form of my newspapers being blown all over the boardwalk. In my haste to run over to the excited man reading the newspaper, I forgot to put my brick on top of my bundle of newspapers. Now, as I turned to go back, I saw the papers strewn all over the boardwalk. But, I was thinking, too, "That what I've lost in newspaper money I've gained in gold!"
I will leave this story at this point for now. The story of "The Gold Ring" is not finished ~ but goes on for a long time and my treasure hunting continues to this day.
To be continued..
© 2005 Jim Manniso