I don't know if any of you ever notice an old guy hanging around the mines. His name's Jake and his story proves it's never easy unearthing memories that hide and demand to stay buried.
“Strange things happen underground; gold's buried deep and hard to spot in feeble lantern light. Still, miners are a persistent lot, full of wild hopes that one day we'll strike it rich and dance out of this black pit into the daylight. Never happened to anyone I knew; sure never happened to me.
“Did you know this mine's been worked before?
“It was abandoned after a cave-in. It wasn't a miner got trapped, though, it was his wife. We got to her after it was too late. Never figured out why she was down here in his spot. Her husband, Frank, was miles away buying fancy equipment when it happened. He disappeared after the funeral and nobody ever saw him again. The owners offered bonuses, but not one man took 'em up on it. In those days, a woman in the mines brought bad luck, everybody knew that. A dead woman in the mines, who had no reason to be down here? Nobody'd even talk about it.
“I found a wedding ring today; it was Mary’s.
“What's that? How much gold's in a wedding band? I should know, but I guess I'm too old to care. Oh, I still chip away at earth and stone until my muscles and bones ache and I can crawl through these passageways, with the best of them, just to dig in a space as cramped as a bear's winter den. But I don’t hope no more.
“It was in a metal box.
“I remember her. No man ever saw Mary could forget her. She came to town with Frank when they were just married. I knew half a dozen guys tried to make a play for her. Thought about it myself, but I wouldn't've stood a chance. Mary only had eyes for Frank. She used to wear these pretty little sundresses, and sorta trip around town in high heel shoes. Didn't see much of that here abouts.
“Found this letter, too, but I ain't gonna read it.
“The whole town felt bad for Frank. Everybody knows when gold fever hits there's nothing nobody can do, but folks talked. He stayed underground more'n any man I ever knew, worked double shifts, dug on Saturdays instead of taking his wife to a movie, hauled out on Sundays instead of sitting next to her in church. Saw him go down with a blanket once. Said he was close.
“It's addressed to Frank.
“The gossips had a field day. All the wives hated her, couldn't wait til she got fed up and left Frank, but she hung in for nearly a year. Always acted like a lady, too, never cried or carried on, but you could see the sadness in her face. Didn't help that she had no friends. Made you want to help her. I even talked to Frank once. Didn't do no good, though.
“Here, you take it.
“Folks stayed a bit after the mine closed and worked the hills near-by, but little by little they drifted away. I'm the only one never left. Used to come here sometimes, just sit and think about Mary, maybe bring her daisies from the valley, or wild violets from what's left of that forest east of here, the one we used for lumber.
“Read it if you want. I'm going now. I don't think there's any harm my takin the ring, do you? Nobody left to remember her but me. I'll just put the roses over there by the box. Maybe you could bury it again with the letter. Nothin left for me here. Put the boards up when you go. Keep folks outta here, those timbers are old and rotten.”
I waited until he left before I read the letter. It was best he didn't see it. There were just two lines.
"This is all the gold we need. Come home, My Love. Mary."