Pirates in the Backyard

A memory of my dad and a souvenir treasure map


My parents would often take me to see ships when I was a kid. There was always a new naval vessel to see at Port Everglades, whether it was an aircraft carrier or a submarine or a decommissioned battleship.

One weekend, however, I remember visiting a different type of vessel: a replica of the HMS Bounty, the very same ship featured in the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” I’d never seen the film — 1962 was much before my time. But the fact that I had not seen it, did not matter. It also did not matter that it was a replica. To me, it was a real pirate ship!

I remember that ship sitting at the dock

I hardly remember the tour of the ship itself. I only remember the gift shop at the end. It was filled with plastic muzzle loaders and eye patches and all sorts of plastic and cotton pirate memorabilia. As I walked through the store, looking for anything to live out a pirate fantasy, my dad approached with a rolled up piece of paper.

“It’s a treasure map!” he told me.

It was much better than the ones that we made at home using a piece of crumpled white paper and a lighter to singe the edges, simulating oldness. No, this one was authentic, yellowed and beautiful, as if a calligrapher, a Mr. Smee, had taken the time to draw and make notes in the hope of recovering his hidden treasure.

“Should we get it?” he asked me. I nodded. And so my dad bought it.

My dad was a baker and worked nights, so when we got home, we all ate dinner and my dad went to bed. He had to wake up at 2AM to go to work.

As I lay in bed later that night, I stared at that map, long and hard, imagining a world where finding such a thing would have been a call to adventure. Just like Treasure Island. Who wouldn’t want to be a pirate? You could take what you want, be as good or as evil as you pleased, free on the high seas. I dreamed of my pirate’s life.

The next morning when my dad came home from work, he called me over.

“Hey… can I see that treasure map?”

“Sure.” I replied. I set the thing in front of him, careful as I unrolled it.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said and took a long, long look at it. “You know, that piece there kinda looks like the neighbor’s yard.”

“Huh?” I replied. I stared at the map, unable to tell what he was talking about. I supposed it was possible. I didn’t know much about map reading and my dad was much more experienced in these sorts of things.

“Yeah.” He continued. “Very interesting. This treasure could be right around here!”

“Really?”

“Yep.” He looked at the map intently. “Maybe we should get a shovel.”

We grabbed the shovel as we headed into the backyard. My dad held the map in his hands. “It says here that we should walk twelve steps that way.” He pointed toward the back of the house. I knew that pirates had visited Florida long ago. It was possible that they had visited this place. Possible.

We walked our twelve paces.

“Now walk five paces to the west.” My dad turned to his right. He took his steps again.

“X marks the spot.” He planted the shovel into the ground. “I think this may be it.”

I looked down at the shovel. It didn’t look any different than the rest of our lawn — just a plain spot like any other.

He dug. After a few shovel fulls of dirt, I heard a chink. He hit something. My heart raced. Could this be it?

“What is that?” he said.

I dove to the ground and cupping the dirt back with my hands, until I felt something cold and metal. I pulled it out of the ground. A piece-of-eight!

“Woah.”

He had been right. A treasure buried in our backyard. After a few minutes of digging, we had recovered some ten pieces-of-eight — silver and gold coins. My dad and I ran in to share what we had found with my mom.

It was not until years later, after I learned that such things don’t really happen in the real world, that I realized that what my dad had done. He had bought the pieces-of-eight from the gift shop at the Bounty and buried them that night, before going to work, while I slept.

Whenever I think of my dad, even to this day, with me being 41 and him 72, this memory is always there. I don’t think I have ever mentioned it to him. But now that I have my own kids, I understand the love behind such a simple act and it’s about time he knows exactly what it meant to me. That treasure was real and it sits with me every day.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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