Image by Ben Zajdel

His old hands gripped the tin box tightly, his knuckles white. He held it close to his chest, his treasure, his savings. The Depression taught him not to trust the banks and to this day he still didn’t. Yes, he had a bank account. But it was for daily business, paying the bills and such. The important things he kept close.

John never forgot where he came from, or what this land meant to his family. He’d traveled far from Crow County, to Italy and Germany, where he fought the Nazis. East Asia, where he fought the North Koreans. A half-dozen police departments throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, where he fought criminals of all kind.

And then he got the Star, that silver badge that represented so much. Honor, integrity, discipline, toughness. That Star sent him all over Texas and sometimes into Mexico, though he wasn’t supposed to say that to anyone. Made him feel like a real cowboy. Not like that TV show, the one where the Ranger with a beard did all those karate kicks. No, being a Texas Ranger wasn’t flashy or fun, but it mattered. He changed lives, put evil people away for good so they couldn’t hurt the innocent anymore.

But this land was always on his mind, always calling out to him, letting him know he could come home when his oats were sown, when the Star no longer needed him. And so John served his time, at home and abroad, and then came home to this little patch of East Texas. It’d been in his family for years and years, though John had never bothered to research exactly how long.

The pine trees swayed with the wind and watched him walk through a green field at their edge. Tall bahia grass whipped at his knees, leaving tiny black seeds on his jeans. Somewhere a crow cried out, loud and laughing, and John wished he could distinguish the individuals by their call. But even now in his old age, they all sounded the same.

He followed an old cow trail along the edge of the woods, stopping at the old oak tree by the road. As a young man he used to wrap his arms around as wide as he could. The oak tree was solid, was this big when his granddaddy was a boy. It was like a monument, a sentinel guarding their land when no one was at home. It made him feel comfortable.

From the oak tree John headed north until he came to a skinny cedar tree. He’d been watching it grow now for the last few years. He gently put down the tin box and then unstrapped the shovel he’d slung on his back. He took the gloves out of his pocket and put them on.

When he pushed the shovel into the ground, it felt like the Earth cried out to him. He stopped for a moment and looked around. It felt like the world was screaming at him, incensed at his betrayal. But John took a deep breath and scooped a shovel full of dirt beside him. This land was alive, but it was his. Given by right and his do with as he pleased. So he went ahead, digging his hole like a doctor performing painful surgery that he knew was for the best.

After the hole was deep enough, John put the tin box inside and covered it slowly. When it was filled in, he took a branch and some pine needles and put it over the hole. Just in case anyone happened upon it in the next few weeks. But no one would. It was John’s land, and no one ever came out that far anymore. Even when his kids visited, they stayed at the house and never ventured out into the woods. They didn’t like him doing it, either. It was dangerous at his age, they said.

His children, all their friends, people now days, they all thought they could escape death, escape pain. John knew otherwise. He and his generation had borne all that suffering, kept it off the backs of their descendants, because that was what you did. You didn’t want the ones you love to hurt. But they did it too well, and now those children didn’t know how to suffer, or find meaning in the suffering.

He could do nothing about that now. His time was nearly over, his race nearly run. His old body would give out any day now. That was fine. He’d made his peace with God, years ago, baptized in a pond at his preacher’s house. Sometimes he dreamed of heaven. Sometimes he dreamed of his wife. His house was in order, his will just waiting to be executed.

Those kids would be in for a surprise, yes they would. They’d go up to the bank, talk to the manager Mr. Sharps, and ask to see the safe deposit box. They’d be expecting some cash, their mother’s jewelry, maybe some savings bonds. Money, money, money. It’s what they’d always had on their mind.

No, they’d find no currency, nothing they could sell in that box. He’d only left them his greatest treasure, that beautiful badge, that silver star that meant courage, honor, and justice. That’s what he’d left them. He buried all his money out in the woods and left no way to find it.