Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ma Moo's Burried Treasure

Several years ago I under took one of the hardest jobs I ever expected to face. I traveled to Dumas Texas, where I was born, to clean out the house on North Porter Street that had been a safe haven all my life. It had been the home of my mother’s parents since my Grandfather had built it in 1946.
Ma Moo and Pop Pete’s house was a magic place. It was a home in every sense of the word. There was a garden and fruit trees and a large shady yard front and back. The single car detached garage also served as Pop Pete’s workshop.

It was here I learned the value of simple things. A watermelon shared with family on a warm summer evening. I remember the loved feeling we had when Ma Moo made chocolate chip cookies in her kitchen. I can close my eyes and still see the Christmas tree in the living room. There were two down stairs bedrooms and their closets connected by a crawlspace under the stairs that led to the attic bedroom. That was my bedroom since I was four years old. It was where I stayed whenever I was in town, until that trip.

I would be here all night trying to list the things I learned from Ma Moo and Pop Pete but the one thing that always brings them to mind is coins. Pop Pete was a serious coin collector. He and Ma Moo had worked on the collection since before my mother was born. It was an activity I fell into with then. After dinner we would sat at the kitchen table one night a week and go through rolls of coins Pop Pete would get at the bank. We were looking for coins he either needed for his collection or would keep for swapping with other collectors. I felt like I had been admitted to an exclusive club when I was given my own coin books to fill up. What coins were left over would be rerolled and taken back to the bank the next week when Pop Pete would get more.

Of course, saving pocket change was nothing new. Ma Moo and Pop Pete hadn’t grown up in the Great Depression; they raised my mother in it! Pop Pete used to say he was the best educated milk man in Amarillo, Texas in those days. They knew the value of saving even small amounts.

When I was eleven Pop Pete passed away. Ma Moo stayed in the house on North Porter for another 40 years. Mom was also in Dumas and they talked every day. Ma Moo did her own yard work into her 80’s. I thought she would last forever. Then came the call that Ma Moo had gone to sleep and didn’t wake up. I was numb until after the funeral.

None of us wanted to sell the house, but there was no other realistic option. My life was in Falls County now and the others had gone their own ways. So it was time to clean out my grandmothers things and put her house on the market. It was at this point we discovered the treasure.

All of Pop Pete’s best coins were in a safe at Mom’s house. But when my brother, Allen, tried the pickup Ma Moo’s knitting bag he almost pulled his shoulder out of socket. In the bottom of the bag was almost 100 silver dollars, the big ones! A few minutes later Mom was cleaning out the freezer and found several ten and twenty dollar bills in tin foil inside a zip lock bag.

When packing Ma Moo’s China sets I lifted a plate and found a five dollar bill, then another, then a couple of tens. They were followed by twenties and under the last plate was a one hundred dollar bill. A fifty was in the cookie jar. Some of these were old bills; silver certificates were mixed in with them.

The jars of coins were everywhere. Her desk drawers had one in each. There were several in dresser drawers, sometimes more than one. Chest and trunks also held coins. When cleaning out the closets Allen and I found several as we went along. As we got into the crawl space under the stairs we found the last of them. Allen was coming from the other closet when I said “There’s another coin jar here.” It was just a couple of feet in front of me and I was puzzled when he said he would get it. It turned out there were two of them, one on each side of the stud.

I will confess here there was one more. An old Clabber Girl Baking Powder can that had just over a dollar’s worth of pennies. It is sitting in front of me as I write this with the same coins still inside. I gave Allen, who was in charge of collecting and dividing the “treasure” a ten saying I had found it in the bookcase. I didn’t want to rip the others off, just wanted to keep this one stash intact.

The coins in the jars weren’t valuable collector’s items. But in their own way they were priceless. They spanned from the 30’s (coins still in circulation when the house was built) to early states quarters. They were fifty plus years of pocket change dropped into jars after sorting looking for something good. It’s a practice I still follow today.

On the shelf next to me are my coin books. Today Helene and I have grandchildren who like to come to HomePlace. They love feeding the rabbits and chickens. Riding around the property in the Dodge M-37 is a special treat, but at some point they want to look at “Papa Art’s” coins. Explaining the different kinds from years past reminds me of my days with Ma Moo and Pop Pete. From time to time I also bring home rolls of coins to sort through. I think perhaps there are coin books for Ali and Spud in the near future.

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