Emily surprised no one when she used her death to orchestrate one final treasure hunt.
“The prize at the end will taste sweeter for having worked for it,” she would tell to her grandchildren.
Emily beamed watching each child decipher clues and relished in exuberant expressions of joy when they figured out where the treat was hidden.
Whenever they visited, Emily handed each child a clue leading to another clue. Each clue took them closer to a treat, almost always round, pink candies or vanilla wafers. On hot summer days, the treat might be a popsicle.
Some days the prize was a quarter to be spent at the corner store. The first time a child found a quarter at the end of the trail sent them spinning and doing a happy dance. Your first quarter meant you were old enough to walk to the corner store on your own.
Upon entering the store, a glass counter to the right displayed all varieties of penny and nickel candy. Deciding how to spend twenty-five cents might take longer than eating the candy. Each time, the same internal dialogue: Hard candies last longer. Chocolate is better. Maybe a Tootsie Roll Pop. Mom doesn’t let us have candy bars, maybe a Snickers is the way to go.
Whatever the decision, the spoils from the treasure hunt went back to Grandma’s to be eaten on the front porch or under the big tree in the back yard.
* * *
At Emily’s funeral, the grandchildren sat in a circle sharing a favorite treasure-hunt memory. Nathan recalled the time he clambered up the big tree to find a clue.
“How did Grandma hide the clue up there?”
“I hid the clue in the tree.”
Mike revealed how as the oldest, he often assisted in placing clues around for the younger kids.
“As Grandma got older, the stairs to the attic or basement gave her trouble. I doubt Grandma ever climbed the tree. One year she promoted me to be her assistant and swore me to secrecy. Now you know. Whew! I’m glad to get that out in the open.”
At the reading of the will, each grandchild received an envelope with a clue to finding one last treasure.
“I have selected a something special for you. As you complete one more trek, remember, the joy is in the journey.”
All heads turned toward Mike.
“Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with it.”
Everyone’s first clue led to the same place and included instructions to complete the quest together. Stacked with boxes of all sizes, Emily’s eight grandchildren each found a box with their name on it in the attic. The prize inside included a letter and photographs of the two of them together.
Tammy received antique broach she liked to wear when she visited Emily.
“I used to think I was sophisticated wearing Grandma’s fancy jewelry.”
Kathy found a crystal vase Emily brought from Ireland as a teenager.
“I used to pick wild flowers out of the field behind Grandma’s house. She always put them in this vase as if I presented her the most precious flowers on earth.”
Mike found his grandfather’s leather bomber jacket and a key to the antique motor cycle in the garage.
“I used to love hearing Grandpa tell me stories about riding with his brother. I Can’t believe she gave me his bike.”
Roger opened his box to find Grandpa’s war medals and the flag used to adorn his grandfather’s casket at his funeral. Overcome with emotion, tears in his eyes, Roger turned the flag over, smoothing out the corners.
Amanda started sobbing as she unfolded the quilt Emily made from aprons she’d worn over the years.
“Grandma used to let me bake cookies with her. I made such a mess, she always put one of her aprons on me.”
Nathan fell to his knees when he found his Grandfather’s baseball card collection.
“I spent hours poring over these with Grandpa. He came to every game I played from little league to high school state finals.”
Samantha showed off a hand-beaded clutch.
“Grandma let me carry her evening bag around when we played dress-up. I think that’s when I discovered my love for all things vintage.”
“Okay Cinda, last, but not least. We all know you were Grandma’s favorite. Look at the size of that box,” Roger teased.
All eyes on her, Cinda gingerly unwrapped an antique bird cage, fragile from the dry attic air. Detached from its hinges, the door lay on the bottom of the cage.
“What does it mean? I don’t remember Grandma ever having a bird,” Amanda asked.
“Grandma had scarlet fever as a child. Her father gave her this cage and a song bird to keep her company during her recovery. She told me she always felt bad for the bird, locked up in a cage all the time. The day the doctor said she could go outside, Grandma set the bird free. Let’s see what the note says.”
You are my youngest grandchild, the one most like me, in spirit. My wish is that you see the world for both of us. I removed the door on this cage to remind you to remain open to all life offers. Be audacious in your pursuit of adventure. Fly, little bird, fly, and I will soar with you.