I wanted to make the first day of summer really special this year, so I decided to put together an adventure. For years I've been telling my kids the story of a 300-year-old bloodthirsty pirate who runs a junk store not far from our house. He's hiding from his enemies (who stole his soul and buried it in a box full of treasure and hid the map somewhere nearby). This pirate cannot rest until he finds that soul, and has been marooned here in Detroit to run a junk shop until someone finds his map. Also, I should mention he always wears a pink prom dress so know one will know he's a pirate (despite his eye patch and tendency to mutter "Arrrrr.") His name is Captain Sparkles, and he's a born killer.
Wouldn't you know it, but last week his treasure map turned up inside the walls of the recently renovated 118-year-old R. Hirt Jr. building (now known as DeVries & Co. 1887). I told my daughter one of the employees called me as soon as the map was discovered, and now we had it to find the treasure for ourselves. She totally bought my story, until she saw the map (a frayed pieces of antique parchment complete with burn marks) and even though all of the directions were written in French, she said, "Pops, this looks a lot like your handwriting." Damn, I thought, why didn't I hire a freelance scrivener? But she was a good sport, and told herself it was just a coincidence. On the first day of summer, we got out the map and she dictated the words to me, which I typed into google translate and she noted down the translations. . .
It turns out the map was made by pirates who first came to Detroit with the French coureurs de bois and explorers in the seventeenth-century. And they buried their treasure right in our neighborhood. Another incredible coincidence!
I've never really made them any pirate costumes, so they cobbled a few together out of things they found around the house (my daughter's awesome frock coat once graced the back of little Mozart). We couldn't find the tri-corner hat we bought at Fort Ticonderoga a few years back, but they had bandannas. I texted the mom of two of their best friends and said we were going on a pirate adventure that morning, and in less time than it took us to make a pirate flag, two well-dressed buccaneers appeared. You know you have good friends, kids, when you can give them no notice and they show right up on your doorstep in perfect pirate garb.
My kids don't know the full details of pirate life; they think it mostly has to do with finding buried treasure and singing songs about something called "rum." In order to keep it that way, I decided to bury a real treasure for them. On the final days R. Hirt Jr. was in business, I bought a deeply-discounted wooden pirate chest:
A quick trip to the thrift store yielded $8.00 worth of brass junk and costume jewelry that looked like this inside the chest:
Of course, every decent treasure chest needs handfuls of gold doubloons, so I emptied all the pennies out of the junk drawer and spray painted them gold. I think this might be a federal crime. Oh well, I've committed worse acts in the name of piracy.
On a moonless night, I headed out into the nearby park with the treasure chest under one arm and a shovel in the other. The baseball game I was watching ran late and I didn't get outside until after midnight. I'd been feeling sleepy, but grew increasingly alert and paranoid shoveling dirt in the darkness of a public park in Detroit. What if someone saw me? What if we woke in the morning and the treasure was gone? What about that weirdo who prowls the neighborhood with his giant metal detector, what if he's an early riser? When the box was covered with sod and grass, I made a huge X out of stones and high-tailed it home. I almost couldn't sleep, I was so excited.
The next morning, the band of little pirates spent a lot of time speculating about the map and its symbols.
Following the dotted line from point to point, one of them pointed out the absurdity of all pirate maps. Why pace out the Family Circus line when you could just figure out the endpoint and go right there? Too smart for their own good, these crude corsairs. So after half an hour of clueless wandering, they figured out where the X was located and it became a mad dash:
When she located the X, my daughter jumped and squealed and shouted for nearly a minute. They gathered around it in shock, before one of them realized they should be digging. It didn't take long before they found the top of the treasure chest, and had it out and open.
I asked them how much they thought the treasure was worth, and the valuations ranged from $30 to $3 million. I told them it was probably worth $3 million, but the guy from Hardcore Pawn would only give us $30. The kids seemed satisfied with that, though the first mate was a bit disappointed:
In the end, the booty was distributed fairly, and the only tension came over what to do with the tiny corked bottle that contained Captain Sparkles' soul. No one wanted to return it to him, and my daughter screamed when I suggested we should smash it. All of her suspicion about my handwriting on the map were irrelevant at this point. She was convinced, and the poor girl really believed the story. I promised her I would bring the old pirate his soul. And with Captain Sparkles' treasure and soul finally unearthed, he might finally rest in peace.
Or will he?