It seems that on occasion, after a hard rain, he can awake to find that much of his driveway gravel has been washed out into the road. Whenever this happens, experience has taught him that he needs to retrieve as much of that that gravel as soon as he can. Otherwise, it can be washed further down the road by additional rains. Even worse, it can wind up being scraped into the ditch by county road maintenance personnel.
I reflected back to a similar sight etched into my memory as I watched my dad do much the same thing on our driveway at the old farm where I was raised. At the time, I had no appreciation for the cost of a load of gravel, either in terms of money to have it delivered, or in time to get it spread.
What I do remember is that it was not uncommon in my childhood to go out into the driveway after a hard rain and find old coins that had been washed down from the vicinity of the old barn in the backyard. Over the years, I found my share of Lincoln wheat cents, Buffalo nickels, and Barber dimes. Long before the History Channel ever appeared on television, the washes and furrows in our driveway on the old farm became a channel of history to me!
I can only surmise that the coins I found were dropped over the intervening decades by others - either by my own ancestors or else by whoever owned the property before them. These days, I realize that this is not all that surprising given that the farm house I grew up in was actually partially antebellum, complete with hand hewn pole rafters up in the attic.
The structure itself had been added onto many times. As I was to learn later, the main portion was originally an outlying slave quarters. Apparently an old plantation house had been located about a quarter of a mile or so to the east of our modest little home; but it had long since been demolished.
Thus, by the time of my childhood, back in the 1960s, the place where I lived had obviously been inhabited for well over a century. It is little wonder, therefore, that the residue of multiple generations of previous inhabitants would periodically manifest itself.
To be sure, I found nails and tools and other such items as well. But I remember how I would take particular delight at the discovery of any old coins. These, of course, would always bear some actual date, such as 1898 or 1919 or 1923. I would fondle them in my fingers and ponder with considerable imagination what might have accounted for the origin of these coins. In the process, I would posit all sorts of possibilities.
Had it been dropped by some careless farm hand? Had it slipped from the pocket of someone on a wagon? Did someone agonize at the end of the day when, in the early 1900s, they came up one precious nickel or dime short of their daily earnings? Had a moonshine purchase gone down there? Or had an unlucky penny even been deliberately discarded? Who knew? In my mind, at least, the possibilities were legion.
But one thing was for certain. Others had definitely dwelt there long before me. Their entire lives had played out; and they had then passed on long before I ever even came to be. This one fact, above all others, intrigued me. to this day, it still does.
Years later, after another hard rain, I was out walking on the dirt road where I lived, and happened upon an arrowhead lying in the middle of the road. I still have that arrowhead. Many a time since that day, I have pondered just how it came to be where it was when I found it.
Was it too carelessly dropped? Perhaps from either a pocket or a pouch by some passing Indian clad in breach cloth of buckskin? Had it been attached to an arrow lost in an errant shot at wild game? Or had it actually found its mark, only to be lost when the animal itself eluded its hunter and slinked off into the woods somewhere to die? Again, the possibilities were endless.
A few years later, I began to notice that certain trees in our woods were in the shape of a giant figure four. My meanderings throughout our woods and those of our neighbors uncovered several of these. Later, I was to discover that they were, in fact, “Indian Trail Trees”. At some point in the past, young saplings had been intentionally bent and then tied off with leather things in order to form this shape, so that the tree, once grown, would always point Native Americans to some local water source, village, or other place of significance.
This too fired my imagination as I wondered just how many generations of travelers had previously transited across the land that would one day be farmed by my ancestors. Had our own dirt road at one time been a game trail that then became a foot path, only to then become a wagon path before eventually being widened to permit the passage of automobiles?
Once again, I was fascinated by the fact that, long before those who had lost coins on our farm, others had obviously lived and died there as well. These individuals had also had their entire lives play out before they too had passed on. One cannot help but wonder if these people ever considered that, untold generations later, other people completely unknown to them would one day dwell on that same land.
It may well be that these cumulative experiences, as much as anything, account for my love of history. Had I never happened upon these few old coins and similar relics, I might never have developed the keen interest I have in all things historic. Without a love for history, I wonder how much I would have been inclined to read and to study and to travel and experience and to learn! And in time, to then impart some of what I was privileged to learn to others.
In the Old Testament book of Job, chapter 8, verses 8-10, we read: “Please inquire of past generations, and consider the discoveries of their fathers. For we were born yesterday and know nothing; our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you, and speak from their understanding?”
As one who loves history, I have come to see the truth of these words. We can learn a lot from those who have gone before us. But even when we know little of them and the circumstances of their lives, they can still teach something.
And perhaps the biggest lesson they can teach us has to do with humility. In truth, most of those who came and went before us have long since been forgotten. I read once where the vast majority of people who ever live are totally forgotten within two generations of their passing. For this reason, we often know very little of them or the details of the lives they lived.
Given this, we are fooling ourselves if we think we will be remembered hundreds of years hence. For we, like they, are here for only a short time, and then we pass into eternity.
Understanding this helps us to keep a proper perspective on just who we are, as well as the legacy we will leave in this world. Hopefully, this will lead us to live a life that is glorifying to God and beneficial to others. Doing so makes our lives not only a channel of history, but also a channel of blessings. By comparison, little else that we do in this world really matters; for little else will have eternal significance.
Still, I loved history. I love learning about people of the past, and imagining what the world must have been like in their day. Thus, I have now decided to dig out these old discoveries of my childhood, and provide some provenance of them for my children and grandchildren. I do so in the hopes that their imaginations too will be inspired.
While I cannot account for how these artefacts got to where they were when I first found them, I can at least account for their presence ever since they came into my possession. Of course, once they pass into my children and grandchildren’s possessions, I cannot account for where they will go next.
I may just do something else as well. I may just get myself a roll or two of pennies and nickels and dimes and then proceed to drop one or two here and there for posterity’s sake. Who knows? A hundred years from now, or even a thousand, someone may just happen upon one of them and become just as enthralled with the past as I once was.
Should this happen, even without any knowledge of exactly how they arrived at the location where they were found, the mere discovery of any of these remnants of the past may well evoke within their discoverers a newfound fascination for, as well as a lifelong appreciation of, history.
If and when it does, the love of history will have repeated itself!
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/bsb/job/8.htm.