Rusty Divine

Live, Love, Learn, Teach

The Penny Hunter (Part 2)

The man is one of the first hunters; he bought an early model of metal detectors and has upgraded five times in the ensuing decades. He watches American Digger, but would rather not have the competition it has created. Every park and public gathering place has been hunted so thoroughly that he says the only good spots left are around old houses and church yards – especially abandoned church yards.

He is originally from Illinois and tells me the hunting was much better back east. He’s found silver dimes, big pennies, coins from the 1800’s, and a few rings and jewelry. He doesn’t make a sales job out of it; he doesn’t allude he is comfortably retired on his hunting, and that’s why I know he’s the real deal. He’s happy finding pennies, nickels, and dimes. He probably has found just enough to pay for his equipment, if that.

Rowan stops by to reconnect and tell me a story of the game they are playing. He wants me to listen to him while the man keeps talking, but I can only hear one of them at a time. Right now, I’m more interested in the man’s story and nod to Rowan and tell him things like, “That sounds fun” so that he can see that I’m still here but not interested in playing with him at the moment. They run off together to the fire truck for their next adventure.

Chowders. Have I ever heard of them? No, I haven’t. Churches out east host social events called chowders – church suppers featuring loads of fish on Sunday evenings – and the congregation attendees must have holes in their pockets because if you want to find a minefield of dropped coins, there’s no better place than an abandoned chowder grounds. Silver dimes? You got them by the bucket load. If you can find a chowder ground with good soil, you’ll have a eight-inch thick cake of coins you can pluck like plums from hot pudding.

The man tells me about his favorite pry bar, a formerly flat-head screw driver about eight inches deep that is so worn it is more like a pick. It won’t poke a hole through half-rotted coins, and is long enough to reach the bottom of what the detector can isolate.

The parks around here are barren, but there was a good find out by Capital Beach where he got in behind a house where he was on the landowner’s property. He found a dozen iron water main covers buried under grass – I wonder about teenage hijinks in years past. He spoke to the occupant who didn’t know how the discs got there, and he took them to the metal scrap yard and got a few bucks from them. He’d like to go back there some day soon to find some more, if they’d let him.

He’s found more coins on rental houses and old yards than the parks around town. He knows there are some rental properties across the street from his house that he could hunt and he doesn’t think anyone would mind, but he would at least ask first. I wonder if I should invite him over to my house to search the yard. It might be interesting to see what he finds.

The boys are milling about as the sun sets and its time for everyone to head home. I wish the man happy hunting as he and Noah make their way back to their car talking about Noah’s imaginary adventures on the way. Rowan wants to stay and play, but within minutes realizes he is ready to go home and eat and drink and get ready for bed.

I think about the stories the man told me and wonder at how people find happiness in their hobbies. There were no disillusionments of getting rich by the man, he was at peace with finding pennies and it was enough for him. He didn’t try to sell me on the idea of hunting, he just shared his passion with me. I don’t want to go out and buy myself a detector, but I do want to scatter a few coins in public parks so that hunters like him can come across some buried treasure and wonder about who dropped it and why. Maybe my Lincoln penny will someday be found and treasured by Noah or Rowan’s grandchildren.

The Penny Hunter (Part 1)

Alone with my son at the school playground just down the street. It’s nearly 8pm on Good Friday and we have the playground to ourselves. We’ve already accomplished grocery shopping and decided to drive to the park, even though it was just blocks away, because he says it takes too long to walk there. I’m the troll under the suspension bridge, then he’s the polar bear in the zoo; next we’re taking the sick polar bear to the hospital on the back of a fire truck sirens blazing, and then back home again. Another family arrives, a boy not much older than Rowan wearing glasses and a man who is his grandfather swishes a metal detector across the gravel of the playground.

First thoughts: ambivalence, curiosity, polite introvertive acceptance. The new boy seems accustomed to playing on his own. His name is Noah. Rowan watches Noah and wants me to help him overcome his shyness, take him by the hand, and walk over to where Noah is playing. The two boys start their orbital dance around each other until they are at some point actually playing together – it is impossible to say exactly when that transition occurs.

I watch the man with the metal detector. He’s on his knees with a screw driver in hand poking at the gravel. Soon he is near enough to me to enter the zone of conversation. He tells me that the kids that go to this school must not carry a lot of change because he’s only found a penny and a dime so far. His detector beeps again and the man wonders if it is a piece of trash or a deeply buried pipe. He tells me the detector has a display that predicts if the blip is a coin or jewelry. He kneels and pokes with his screw driver and finds nothing. Carefully he fills in his hole, stands up, and continues sweeping the playground underneath monkey bars and jungle gyms where upside down children may drop their left over lunch money.

I play with the boys for a time to leave the man to his hunt. Rowan follows Noah to the step-up bars and shows him how he can hang by his hands for several seconds while bending his knees to his chest and swinging back and forth. I’m alone again and the man is there and is talking about hunting. He has poked the ground a few more times carefully covering the hole back up each time but hasn’t found anything since I first spoke with him. He tells me he just had this detector rebuilt and hasn’t gotten it back into the flow.

The boys play chase – one a cop, the other a bad guy – and as the man sits on the geodesic dome that was the polar bear’s zoo home it becomes apparent he’d rather tell me some stories about hunting than continue to sweep for treasure. I’m all ears; I’m a sucker for stories.