Time to pawn that gold watch and chain

Alan
Alan Elliott
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Tin pie pan, check. Canvas knapsack, check. Rubber boots, check. I got on the party line to touch base with my buddy, Lyle, about other necessities for our expedition. We should probably make some sandwiches, since we might be gone a long time.
"Don't wreck that pie pan," my mother warned as I went out the door.
I met my friend on the corner and we set out walking one concession east to a nearby creek. We excitedly discussed the potential of any gold we might discover -- the things an unlimited supply of money could buy.
Not that there had ever been evidence of motherlodes in that rural area where we grew up. Let's just say we were going on the kind of hunch a 10- or 11-year-old might dream up. Gold was, and still is, the stuff of dreams.
It's always been the stuff of drama too. Maybe our trek was spawned by a favourite television show at the time: The Travels of Jamie McPheeters. That was a covered-wagon, western soap, which launched the career of young Kurt Russell and also featured Charles Bronson. Jamie and his father were part of a wagon train headed west in 1848 for the gold fields of old Californi'. The premise was admittedly a little thin. Every week they'd run into new obstacles or adventures; they never did seem to get near their destination.
Not us that day, though. A mile walk, we crossed the stubble of a field and entered a cedar grove. Under the gloomy canopy we reached the creek's edge and got to work. Åfter a few minutes of digging through mud and stone I grew skeptical. After a half-hour or so we sat back against tree trunks and talked again about gold and ate our sandwiches.
That was my one-time, fruitless, gold-panning adventure. But it's a fresh topic again, given recent headlines screaming the record price of the precious metal: around $1,000 an ounce. It apparently has people everywhere looking through drawers, in the attic and such, for half-remembered gold pieces.
I don't have any old jewelry kicking around, or granddad's watch or grandma's ring or anything like that. I've got a gold cap on a molar I'd just as soon hang onto for now. And we won't get into the grave robber jokes. But I do have one unattached piece -- with a bit of mystery behind it.
This goes back a dozen years or so. Fitfully enduring a staff meeting, I spied a gleaming object beneath the table. Blind as a bat close up, I'll handily pick out anything shiny -- a quarter in a parking lot 15 paces away, for example.
"Anybody belong to this?" I asked others at the table as I picked it up. No one did, and they showed little interest in the piece of gold metal, an odd, misshapen lump, with a tiny ring on one end, like a crude pendant meant to have a chain attached. Perhaps a wedding ring that didn't shine anymore, melted into a glob as a grim reminder?
I absent-mindedly rolled it in my fingers during the meeting. Afterward I took it to the receptionist, thinking someone would come looking for it. Then I forgot about it.
To my surprise, a couple of months later, the receptionist popped the thing on my desk and said, "Nobody's claimed this, Alan, you might as well have it."
Wow, I thought, fingering the homely, crude piece. I showed it to a co-worker and asked what he thought. He looked at it, bit it, looked at again and said, "I think you've got a piece of gold."
Then I did what most would do: I never even thought of wearing it, it didn't interest the wife, not as a piece of jewelry at least, so I tucked it away. I'd get it out occasionally over the years to show someone or to liven up a conversation.
But it takes on a new life now: I've got my own little grubstake during these times of rampant gold fever. I must dig it out and take it to the assay office. It won't put me on easy street. But maybe it'll buy me a pan, bucket, lumber for a sluice and some old-timer prospecting clothes. I'll head out in the gold-speckled Nova Scotia hills and stake my claim.

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