Clue Number Five
Woah, we’re halfway there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
You’ve got to hold on to what you’ve got
It’s gonna make a difference, this isn’t all for naught
Jog your memory, find a thinking spot
Give it a shot.
I drove two-thirds of the way across the country to be rewarded with another $500 and an easy clue. If I understand the clue correctly, I now believe there are 10 clues in total. There is a rhyme and reason to this adventure.
Before he got married and before he had a son, Papaw — Dad’s dad — borrowed some money from the bank on a handshake, bought some land, and built a cabin in the middle of the woods of southwest Missouri. In Papaw’s mind, it was a hunting cabin. He used it to stake out deer and quail and turkeys.
Dad called it the “Middle of Knowhere.” He said this was the place he did his best thinking and was thoroughly delighted to see the Guardians of the Galaxy borrow what he thought was his pun.
“Maybe one day I’ll get a royalty check. Then I can retire,” Dad said.
“Retire and do what?”
“I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing a book.”
“What kind of book?”
“The End of the World as We Know It: Raising a Teenage Daughter.”
I have no idea how long he saved that joke, but he laughed for hours.
Two weeks every summer, Dad and I joined Papaw and Granny for our annual “quiet adventure.” The rules were simple:
- No TV.
- Everyone eats dinner at the table together.
- Celebrate Dad’s birthday on the last night.
Granny had memorized the recipe for Dad’s favorite cake — a three-layered chocolate masterpiece with marshmallow icing. I got a kick out of contributing my almost non-existent baking skills and helping Granny bring the desert to life. I licked beaters and sampled batter and transformed into a sticky mess by the time the cake was complete. Every year, I put as many candles on top of the cake as possible, considerably more than Dad’s actual age. After dinner, Papaw carefully lit the candles, counting them out one by one.
“One hundred and seven candles, son. Congratulations on living that long, though I’m pretty sure you were older last year!”
When Papaw and Granny passed away, Dad and I continued the cabin-visiting tradition. He spent the time reading books, completing a book almost every day. I passed the time studying nature, going for long walks. Whenever Dad asked where I was going, I always said, “To my thinking spot.”
It was never an actual spot, other than just in the woods away from everything. I swear I could feel the earth breathe beneath my feet, and I grew in deep appreciation for the rhythms of nature. Rainy springs of renewal. Long summer days full of activity. Hard work of reaping harvests. Winters of rest and peace. It was a gift to live close to the earth, to live off the work of your hands, to interpret the shades of dirt in your corner of the planet. Spending so much time in my thinking spot every year burned in me dreams to grow my own food and not be wasteful.
As I got older, as much as those dreams still resonated, I discovered that I had a black thumb. I could kill anything. That, and Missouri is all rock.
With an investment of thousands of hours of blood, sweat, and tears, my little farm was born. Along with a snake cemetery. I’m proud of my little farm, my glorified garden, and the foods I can eat from it.
It’s been more than a year since I’ve been to the cabin.
The last time I was here, Dad told me he had decided not to fight “the cancer.”
“It’s my time,” he said. “I know that offers little to no consolation for you, and I am so sorry.”
It was the worst day of my life.
I argued and shouted and cried and hugged and found myself at a complete and utter loss for words. Dad understood all of my emotions, even the silence. We went for walks and had long talks. We stayed up late every night and slept in every morning. For once, Dad didn’t bring any books with him. He told me stories I’d never before heard. Stories of Papaw and Granny. Stories of Mom. Stories of his deepest regrets and joys.
“I think I was about 14 or 15, and I was out traipsing in these woods, lost in some imaginary adventure of one kind or another. I don’t remember why, but I started digging in the dirt, using sticks and rocks and whatever else I could find to create a hole big enough to hide in. I found an arrowhead. It was beautiful, still quite sharp. It was also evidence that the land we thought was ‘ours’ had previously been someone else’s home.
“Now, most people don’t think that boys that age can think deep thoughts and have life-changing epiphanies, and most people are right. Most boys at that age are quite weird. But I’m not most people, and I’m not most boys. There’s a reason I wanted to teach high school. Finding that arrowhead taught me two lessons I have held onto for these last six decades.
“First, keep your eyes open. We live in a world filled with wonders all around us. You might get a little dirty finding them, but they are always worth it.
“Second, and more important. Someone took the time to craft that arrowhead as a tool, as a way of providing for his family. Just like Papaw used his skills as a carpenter to craft the cabin and to provide for my family. I held that arrowhead and immediately made one of the most profound connections of my life.
“When I was growing up, everything was a race, from the Space Race to the Human Race. Words have tremendous power. And using that word ‘race’ created unnecessary competitions between everyone and everything.
“There is no race. Period. Life is not a race to be won in competition against anyone or anything. That kind of thinking ultimately leads to wars and genocides and brings out the absolute worst in people, particularly those in power.
“Life is a gift, pure and simple. And when someone gives you a gift as great as life, you don’t want to waste it. This land is Osage territory. The Osage are a strong, brilliant people. They lived here long before your Papaw made a deal with a banker. They were forced to leave this land — they lost this land — because of people who thought with a ‘race mentality.’ People who saw different and instead of being filled with wonder, were filled with fear. I am convinced that arrowhead was left behind as a gift for future generations to make them stop and think.”