Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rain and Redemption

After the sweet thrill of Kerrville/New Folk, June plunged me into some serious weirdness and challenge culminating in the death my good buddy – and Nashville stalwart – David “Doc” West. Seemed like once the heat and drought set in, so did a cluster of scary, infuriating, exhausting and ultimately sorrowful events in my personal sphere.

I made it through, and, I hope, extracted from the excavated dirt and muck all the little morsels of shiny wisdom I could find. I certainly tried.

And through it all, somehow, I went nearly a month without swinging a Cibola metal detector. Oh, I wanted to. But temperatures in the 100s combined with weeks of determined rainlessness rendered the ground of middle Tennessee parched and hard as gypsum. You couldn’t dig; you could just sort of … chip. I’ve never been on a chain gang and saw no reason to replicate the experience in any way. So I stayed inside with my AC.

Doc’s memorial service was July 4th, and the last of the real scorchers. And soon after that came a rain: a tentative, midnight, 5-minute emissary – as if testing the ground, then reporting back to other rains who were waiting for clearance.  Those rains came too and things are green again. My tomato plants have survived. And, best of all, the ground is damp and diggable.  Here’s a report of recent finds.

My first excursion out post-drought was to a yard on Brush Hill Road. I’d met the young family at their yard sale and they’d kindly given me permission to hunt. As so often happens, the first thing I dug was the best.

Condom containers. Vintage.

Yup. Apparently, there were some good times to be had up on Brush Hill Road back in the 1920s. High on a bluff over the Cumberland it was a perfect vacation area for Nashvillians and there were camps, log cabins, and hunting lodges sprinkled throughout this part of North Inglewood. I know of at least one rumored speakeasy too.  Folks came there to… relax.

3 Merry Widow condom containers are found all over the country, sometimes with condoms still in them. This find really interested my FB friends. When I posted this picture on my wall I got 32 responses including one from my friend Randall who said that the brand is mentioned in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Of course, I just want to know if Agnes, Mabel and Beckie were real, entrepreneurial widders, or just an advertising gimmick. Anyone?

A few days later, after work, I ventured out again. A wooded area on Brush Hill had been bulldozed; looked like a house was going in there. I drove over and poked around. Bits of broken pottery. Old iron things, all just on the surface. Most tantalizing. A nice man in a nearby house gave me the name of the builder and I called and left a message and pretty soon he called me back with permission to hunt. Thanks, Mike!

Sadly, all I found was this.

Sweetheart deal. Purrs like a kitten.
I mean, that is sweet, but I’d expected to find a lot more. I think the bulldozer just flipped everything over and now it’s covered up for good.

The next day, Cheryl and I had a digging date and headed out to yet another Brush Hill yard.

I just love this yard. One area, near a tall tree, always seems to deliver. 

Here are some things I've dug here over the past year.

Colonial-era (pre-Civil War) flat buttons and a buckle

Iron buckles

Random buttons. The one on the top left
has gold gilt on it and reads "Treble Gilt Standard."
Probably Civil War.

Two handles of things: the top one is made of bone and iron.
(Dear animal who became a bone handle: You are now on the
Internet. How does that feel?)
Bottom handle is ... pewter?

 The ground was perfect: moist but not muddy and highly conductive. I started getting signals right away in areas that I’d gone over carefully on other visits. Many were tiny little signals you really had to hone in on. But some were big honkers like the one that yielded this.

Whooooa, Nellie!

We dug a lot of nails, but hey, nails are cool. Nails held together houses that people lived in and ate dinners in and had sex in and raised babies in. Go nails.

Beautiful nails + random round things

Pulled out this mysterious brass item. Any guesses?

I have no idea.

Pulled out the bowl of an iron spoon.

Mmm. Porridge, anyone?

Pulled out what appeared to be half of a flat button, similar to the ones shown above – circa late 1700s to early 1800s that I’ve dug here in the past. So that was nice. Unremarkable, but nice.

I saw Cheryl looking at something in her hand and went to see. It was “One Thin Dime” play money 10-cent piece. CUTE! I experienced a small seizure of jealousy (very mild). Then, wonder of wonders, not five minutes later I pulled out play money of my very own.

Now I can retire.

Also a bunch of WWII-era fasteners.

Thought they were older, but no. Yawn.
Also two musket balls and a 1930 penny.

Here’s where things get interesting. Cheryl was by the road now and called me over. Get a load of what she dug. OK, serious jealousy now.

Folks, this is a Spanish Reale – a silver coin that was honored as currency all over the world in the 1700s and 1800s. American colonists would just cut’em up to make change.

Just to show her my impressive skills, I dug up a 1960s (?) tie clip. 
Nifty design.

Tie clip, right?

It was official. Cheryl had skunked me good.

That night, though, I took a closer look at that “half of a flat button” that I mentioned earlier.



Well. This was unexpected.

I posted this photo on CoinTalk – a numismatist site – and learned that I had dug a half of an India-Bengal Presidential Pice. (Not “piece” but “pice”…) Early 1800s.

Now how an India-Bengal Presidential pice found its way to a river bluff just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, I’m not sure we’ll ever know.  But maybe…

From a coin maker to a merchant to a trader to a sailor, then across many oceans to an anxious wife who paced the small confines of her widow’s walk somewhere on the Atlantic coast. Worn for a year inside a warm bosom. Then, during hard times, used to buy flour. Carried in a pocket, traded from grubby hand to grubby hand. Cut in half, split forever. Then carried in a saddle bag down the old buffalo path that was in the process of becoming Gallatin Pike. Then left, along Love’s Branch to the river where someone said there was a hospitable cabin on the Cumberland where one could rest for a night. From grubby hand to housewife’s cleaner one. Plopped into an apron. An apron with a small hole in a critical seam.