I got the money; the “twenty-five” for “the bottle”. I didn’t buy it. This was the third thing I learned from the dirty fat drunk. I didn’t know exactly what it was THEN but now I do. For some unknown reason at that time, a reason I TRIED to account for, I ...didn’t want... “the bottle”. Oh I thought... and thought.... very, very hard about it, even setting out on foot from school to “buy it; just buy it”. But I didn’t. I’d handle it again and put it back (always with the price tag pointing away from the counter front). Then I’d end up “finding” “something else” “good” “to buy” and... leave. Time and time again. For nearly a year. It was the spring of the following year before a crescendo of an experience closed the bottle from the vacant lot path incident.
When I would walk to the store, I walked along the path. More and more I found myself stopping on the path in the lot and looking around. I actually seemed to stop AT THE SPOT where the bottle was excavated. This spot was still visible for the hole, although no longer a perfect impression, did not fill up. It was a humorously futile exercise of learning. I would awake to find myself wasting valuable after school “picking” time gazing like a fool around an abandoned space on the wishful notion that another Tippecanoe bottle was going to suddenly burst from the earth. Finally, after months of this training, I had one of those always USEFUL revelations that not only was this not going to happen but that I looked (and was acting) like an idiot. There upon I stopped stopping in the vacant lot.
But I did NOT stop stopping in OTHER vacant lots. NOR did I stop stopping in other spaces... between. In fact, I increased my travels to and through this sort of space and... have been “increasing” my travels ...ever since. Mumbling and stumbling, climbing over or climbing down; climbing IN or going “out back”, “over there”, “through that” and “down behind” created a travel mode that took a two block as the crow flies and turned it into a mile long wilderness excursion. I found things. I took them home. I sold them. But I never found a Tippecanoe bottle, try and try again.
One day, at the nearly a year later edge of spring, I traveled the odd trail found behind the little corner “convenience” store that was kiddy-corner from the back exit of the “play ground” of the Junior High School. That store knew exactly why it was “convenient” to be “there”. This trail bore south to a public park used for gym class baseball but also forked promptly to allow the selection of another trail that climbed the ridge bordering a stream. It advanced along the top of that ridge off toward the urban wilderness where, eventually, one could leave it and cross a few streets to cut onto the vacant lot path and arrive where the “antiques shops” “are”. It was nothing for me to move as fast as I could along the ridge with its scrappy trees and bushes, still barren in the early spring.
My eyes moved right and left, fore and aft, down and up and “WAIT A MINUTE”. Blue, the color caught my eye. BLUE on the GROUND. In the woods. Down the bank, toward the stream. BLUE on the ground in the bushes. Down the bank, through the bushes to the blue I went. The only reason I could see the blue was because it was the very edge of spring when land is most barren and exposed. I could barely “see it”. BUT IT WAS BLUE and a true blue that I ...knew. Just as poetic as that I KNEW that BLUE for it was a certain OLD blue the had to be ONLY that OLD BLUE and that blue WAS GOOD; a good old blue.
My foot pushed the packed leaves from the tinge of exposed blue. More blue appeared. I dropped to my knees and dug with my hands. I KNEW I’d found THE blue. What I found was the exposed surface of a “piece” of cobalt decorated American stoneware “buried” along the bank of the stream. Digging was hard. I had no tools. Whenever I find something good, it’s always hard and I have no tools. THAT’S THE ONLY WAY one finds “anything” “good” I ...believe. Digging; I was digging. With a stick, that promptly broke, and then with a long rock sliver as if a primitive man. I exposed the “piece”. It was a crock; an open urn shaped vessel of three gallons originally used for (generally) food storage. The blue blossomed under my careless excavation. A vibrant diffusion of calligraphic gesture picturing a rich cobalt floral spray spread upon the glistening gray-tan salt glazed surface of the ...buried vessel. It was wholly buried, except for the little blue spot I spied. WAS IT WHOLE?
I couldn’t tell. The woods and wilds are filled with shattered disappointments. This seemed whole. In mental image hindsight, I am relieved to note that the urn, lying on it’s side, had its top pointed downhill toward the stream. This would (and did) prevent WATER from collecting inside the vessel. This water would have frozen and thawed and that action would have “cracked” (broken) the jar. It was perfect. Well, almost perfect it turned out for there WAS a tiny “hairline” crack down the back side but that was “nothing”. I dug until I could pull it out of the ground. I carefully removed the dirt from inside. This, although packed hard at the top, gave way and “dumped” out, again attributable to the downward position on the bank. I rolled it (it was big) in my hands, holding on to the upper edge. It was blue, it was perfect and it was marked “TROY NEW YORK”. “Marked” was “good”. Troy had several stoneware factories and “marked” pieces of “Troy” were (and are) “very” collectible. I perspired but didn’t notice. I dirtied my clothes but didn’t notice. I didn’t notice anything. Then I did. I was staring down at the dark brown dirt in the hole. The hole had a perfect impression of the vessel at the bottom. Just like the Tippecanoe bottle. I studied this. WAS THERE MORE? I scanned the surrounding ground. No sign of anything else.
I sat the crock down on the ground. My hands were dirty. My knees were muddy. Did I see anything else? I saw the brown crushed leaves of last fall beneath the twisting bushes. These spread thin in the openings created by the trunks of the still dormant hardwood trees. I saw the top of the ridge where the trail was. I saw the sky meet the horizon formed by the dark line of the ridge with the twisted leafless branches silhouetted above it. They waved and whipped for a breeze was blowing now. I’m sure it was blowing before but... I hadn’t noticed. The light turned bright toward the horizon for the cloud covered sun was headed there and I... should be headed home?
I looked down at the crock. I looked along the ridge. A contemporary green soda bottle bobbed out of the leaves twenty feet away. I walked over and kicked it loose. It rolled down the bank but revealed no treasure. It left a clear impression of it’s excavation below the leaves in the soil. I went back and picked up the crock, carefully, this time avoiding the former grasp-by-the-rim grip I’d had used at first. The urn was precious my mind told me. My body responded with cautious handling. “I can’t break it”.
It was heavy, especially after several blocks. It was awkward to carry for it’s girth prevented an under the arm sling. Also, I carried my school books as I usually did. These were in a pack so with that on my back I carried the jar with two arms folded around it and ...staggered onward. I held the blue decoration toward my chest. I didn’t want anyone to see “that”.
At the church parking lot I waited. I was early? I didn’t know; usually I found clocks along the way to scare me to this meeting place. There was no clock on the ridge. Was I late? How long did it take to find the crock? I hadn’t considered that. I reviewed the time expended and concluded that as I found the crock just after I left school that I couldn’t be late for this premature diversion into antiquities balanced with the time lost digging up this past. The clouds rolled past the sun, thickening. The wind blew. Last fall’s leaves rushed along the fence at the end of the little parking lot. I ignored this and scrutinized the vessel, rolling it with my hand carefully just off the pavement of the parking lot.
My mother pulled in. I could tell she saw the crock right away for she had to drive straight toward it and I at the end of the lot. Also, she was chipper, gushing a “WHAT HAVE YOU GOT!”. I knew SHE knew what “I’d got” for I knew SHE knew what blue decorated stoneware was and LIKED IT. Conversation about antiquities is so much easier when it’s about something someone “likes”.
I told her the whole story and as this would be before the mandatory seat belt laws I am sure this included a lot of bouncing up and down on the seat. I was in the front seat. So was the crock. It was on the seat between us, a place of supreme honor. This was because usually anything I found had to ride “in back”, usually “way back”. That the crock sat between us indicated wordlessly my mother’s extremely strong appreciation of “what” “I found”. This immediate appreciation never ceased and the “Troy crock”(as it became known) was, I believe “the best thing” I “ever found” “with her” in her opinion. She attached ownership to it from the parking lot on. Of course I wasn’t going to sell it; it was too good. Also: I found it. This was a vague commercial demarcation on the day of discovery but, as my time wore on, the demarcation became a boundary defined by my mother who eventually took the urn and placed it under a table “on display” just inside our front door. I didn’t ever protest this for, well, my room WAS full and… that showoff spot WAS an “honor” and... well, what are you gonna do when your a kid. Right?