I met Kay during a South Tacoma neighborhood walk. As our group headed east on 56th Street, Kay pointed out the two-story Victorian she shares with her husband. “1912,” she said, replying to my inquiry of when it was built. “In fact, we recently had some curious guests because of its age.”
Curious guests? Please continue.
Kay said the doorbell rang; she opened it to find two men with muddy boots and shovels standing on her porch. Religious folks and people selling security systems are common in our neighborhood, but these gentlemen fit neither category.
“Can we dig up your backyard?” They asked.
Do you know where you will spend eternity? Have you ever had a break in? How much is your cable bill? Would you like three free months of The News Tribune? Kay was prepared for these and many other questions, but none had to do with backyard excavation.
The men explained. They didn’t want to dig up the whole backyard, just a 5-by-5 foot space.
When this failed to provide any clarity, one of the strangers risked further creepiness and held out a sheet of paper with various lines and shapes.
“This is your house,” he said, pointing to one rectangle in a row of a dozen. “And this,” pointing to an even smaller adjacent square, “is where we want to dig.”
“Why there?” Kay asked.
“Because that’s where the outhouse was.”
“Yes, you’d be surprised what can be found buried beneath layers of old crap.”
These strangers were treasure hunters, and they were prepared to get dirty in pursuit of forgotten gold. They traipsed around Tacoma, equipped with old maps, shovels and a desire to find (but not necessarily keep) things long lost: keys, rings, coffee mugs, even old beer bottles.
In order to experience this joy of discovery, they were willing to dig through layers of waste as old as Woodrow Wilson. They promised Kay that they wouldn’t take long, that she could keep whatever they found and that they would repair the site when finished.
“So,” I interrupted Kay’s story, “what did you do?”
“Are you kidding? How could I say no? I opened the gate and followed them into the backyard to dig up some ... stuff.”
I had forgotten about Kay’s curious guests until recently when I turned to the TNT Op-Ed page to see the call for reader columnists.
I don’t own a metal detector, wouldn’t know where to find an old map, and only our dog and eight-year-old use our backyard as an outhouse.
That being said, I do possess a pair of perfectly correctable eyes, almost 15 years of history in the same neighborhood and a dogged willingness to dig through layers of ... stuff ... if it might mean uncovering something beautiful.
What if instead of searching for treasures in backyards, I began searching for them in my neighborhood? My seeker senses tell me that South Tacoma is a neighborhood full of hidden, forgotten and unnoticed things.
I wonder what kind of trinkets, oddities, tales or places lay hidden beneath layers of time, indifference or inattention? How fun would it be to spend the next year digging around, to become a treasure hunter?
“So, did they find anything?” I asked Kay.
“Oh yeah, two beer bottles, a jackknife and part of a pocket watch,” all of which Kay let them keep.
“It was worth it,” she said, “if only to make me wonder what other treasures might be in our backyards.”
“So, how about you?” she asked. “How old is your house?”
Ken Sikes is a South Tacoma resident and pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org