Sometimes you have to grow up before you can understand the message.

treasure chest
Credit: Kolosigor

I don't remember a time when I wasn't intrigued by a mystery. So when my dad retired from the Marine Corps and my family left California to move back home to the family farm in rural Alabama, I knew I had hit the jackpot. Having visited relatives in Alabama many times in my young life, I was very much aware of, and in love with, the history and mysteries of this region: the late-night songs of cicadas and tree frogs, the chilly woods at the edge of the yard, so dark you knew something was in there looking at you, and the dried cornstalks standing watch in the fields, looking like dead soldiers rising from their graves. To my impressionable pre-teen mind, everything about the South screamed mystery, and it wasn't long after moving into our old farm house that I became intent on uncovering the secrets I knew lay hidden on our property.

My conviction was further strengthened one day when, while cleaning my bedroom, I spied a piece of paper wedged between two wooden floorboards. I don't remember how I maneuvered that paper out of the flooring – perhaps I used a butter knife or a nail file– but kneeling on my 12-year-old skinned knees, I carefully extracted that yellowed and dirty piece of paper. I unfolded it carefully (I had read all the Nancy Drew books so I knew how to handle ancient notes and stuff!) and I saw that it was covered in a faded, shaky, but legible script. The note told a tale of a young Confederate soldier trying to make his way home. He had stopped at this particular farm for food and shelter and, hampered by the weight of "his load," he buried it where he rested and would come back for it when he was "more fit." I knew in my heart this was a torn page from this soldier's diary, but what could have been so heavy that he couldn't carry it home? A box of stolen Union gold coins? Probably. Did he ever make it back to claim it? Was he murdered on the spot and this page ripped from the journal during a struggle? I spent the long, hot months that summer trying to figure it all out. I dug holes in the plowed fields, turned over rocks along the creek beds, rooted around the base of old trees. I never did find that treasure, but I sure had fun looking for it. Someone else had fun, as well.

Years later I learned the truth about that old piece of paper. My Mother had torn a piece of onion skin paper, wrote the note, rubbed dirt on it, wadded it several times, scorched the ends, folded it over and over and over until it was about to fall apart and finally wedged it into the floor boards of my bedroom. How did she know I would find it instead of one of my siblings? I guess that was just "a mom thing." I don't remember why Mama finally told me she was the architect of my summer adventure, but I'm sure I was a little disappointed to learn there really wasn't a treasure after all. As I got older and became a mother, however, I understood the real treasure, the life lesson, of that summer. My parents had five children to take care of, along with the farm. And in the midst of cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, and all those sun-up to sun-down activities and duties that come with a large family, my mom still took the time to recognize the personal needs and desires of each one of her children. When I asked her why she went to the trouble of writing and hiding the note she said, "I just knew you were so into all of that – history, mysteries, ghosts, and everything – you would just get a kick out it." And she also got a kick out of watching me hunt that summer, and she still laughs with joy when we talk about The Note.

Lessons learned from your mom don't always come from a particular conversation or a how-to session at the stovetop. When you look back over time and comprehend what Mama did for you in the quiet times, unknown to anyone but her, well, those lessons are the real treasure!