All That Glitters

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Chapter 1

A cold chill rippled through his old body and shook Sam awake. The old prospector yawned, chuckled to himself, and said out loud,

"My bones are havin' an earthquake! Dang that felt like a 7.2."

It had been that way a long time now. The loneliness and isolation had finally forced him into talking to himself, and yes, now and again he even answered back. Oh heck, who was he kidding, he talked back and forth to himself all the time. Why he had a running dialogue going from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed.

"Flippin' stinkin’ potbelly stove never would keep this old dilapidated cabin warm through the whole night!" The old codger whispered, and in a louder voice came the reply,

"Well you stupid ol’ fart why didn’t you get up during the night and throw a few more logs in. You knew it was gettin’ low on fuel but you were too darn lazy to get your ol’ bones out of yer’ bed weren’t ya' ?!"

He did that a lot too. He’d ask a question in one tone of voice and then he’d answer himself in a different tone. Made it seem more like there were two people talking back and forth instead of just one crazy old coot.

But Sam didn’t really consider himself crazy, well not yet anyway. He figured he’d give it another year, then around next October when it really started getting cold, he figured he’d just go crazy then. Yup, next October, that was a good month for just goin’ right off the deep end.

But for right now, talking back an forth to himself was enough to keep him company, and it helped him remember better days when "she" was around.

He looked over at their picture hanging on the wall of the old log cabin, "Oh Mary, darlin’ do ya’ have any idea how much I still miss ya’, even after all these years?" But there was no answer.

Their love had been the kind of love that someone could have written a whole series of romance novels about. They met when they were in high school. She was 16 and he was 18. From the minute he had seen her, he knew she was his soul mate. This was the one woman in all the world that God had put on earth just for him. Unfortunately it took a little convincing to get Mary to see things the same way, but after two years of courting he finally got her before a priest for those "I do’s". They had lived by those "I do’s" for 52 wonderful years, but then Mary took ill and in three short months, she was gone. And when Mary went, Sam’s heart left too. Not the bodily organ that pumps blood through your body, but the heart that is the essence of a person’s will to live and prosper. It’s that miraculous something that just makes your whole body feel happy just to wake up each morning and see your beautiful wife there beside you. That special feeling was gone. When Mary died, Sam quit living too, he took to merely existing.

Maybe that was why he liked to talk back to himself and call himself things like, "old fart". That’s what Mary would call him in a whimsical way. She knew, that he knew, it was really a term of endearment.

Five years had come and gone since Mary had passed, but all the pain and the loneliness were still there. Not one little bit of that had gone. Where his heart once was, there was just an empty hole with nothing but memories.

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Sam's mind wandered back in time.

It was the day after the funeral. Sally, Sams daughter, and Frank, her husband, came back to Sam's house with Sams three year old granddaughter, Jessica. They helped him clean and tidy up. The previous day had been very trying for everyone. After the friends and family who had stopped by after the funeral had left, everyone was too exhausted to clean up the house.

It didnt take long, under Sallys gentle guidance and direction, for the place to look spotless again; just like Mary would have liked it. By noon all was done and Sally had fixed sandwiches and tomato soup for the four of them.

"Daddy, we need to talk."

"Yeah, honey I want to talk to you kids too, but you go first."

Sally began, "Daddy, Frank and I had a long discussion, and we both decided, well, Frank you tell him." Sally started to get teary eyed, and her voice was starting to strain under her efforts to keep from crying.


"What Frank? For cryin out loud just spit it out, you two OK, I mean youre not getting divorced or something?"

"Daddy!" Sally said in a protesting tone.

"Sam, dont be ridiculous, you know how much I love your little girl."

And Sam did know that. He always had a good read on people, and from the first couple of times that Sally had brought Frank around the house for dinner, until two years later when they married, Sam had always considered Frank a keeper.

"Good Christian boy that son-in-law of mine!" he would brag to his buddies that congregated outside the barber shop every day. "Darn right! Good conservative too! You know he worked his way through law school, to cover whatever his academic scholarships didnt!"

"Yes Sam we know because you tell us this same story every week!"

"Yeah well you better pay attention because this son-in-law of mine is gonna go places one of these days. Wouldnt be a bit surprised if he was governor of this state some day! Yessireebob, maybe Senator! Hell hed make a dang fine President! Bring some flippin' ethics back to Washington."

"Oh geez here he goes again boys!" And theyd all just laugh and nod their heads in agreement with whatever Sam said.

You didnt want to take issue with Sam when he was talking about Mary, or Sally, or Frank or little Jessica, because if you happen to say something that Sam took wrong, youd be looking around for your teeth for the next three days. Not a man normally prone to violence, Sam was definitely beholding to the old adage that blood was thicker than water. So it was best you be mighty agreeable where Sams family was concerned. And never, never, ever mention anything about Johnny.

Johnny was Sams son. He had died when he was 19. Johnny was coming home one night from a concert at the college when a 51 year old drunk named Willie Myers crossed the center line and caused a head on collision. Johnnys little Mustang was no match for old drunk Willies pick up truck. Johnny died at the scene while para-medics feverishly tried to pull his spirit back from the great beyond. Willie walked away without a scratch right into the arms of Sheriff McDougal. Judge Lorraine gave Willie five to ten years. Sam lost some faith in the Criminal Justice system that day. Five to ten years, that was all his boys life was worth? That was also the day Sam decided that he had drank his last bottle of beer. Sam was never one to over-indulge any way. The thought that alcohol played a part in Johnny's death just sort of turned Sam off to the very thought of ever taking another drink himself.

Bottom line was that when Frank asked Sam for Sallys hand in marriage six years ago, he was happy to give those kids his blessing - and he hadnt been wrong about Frank. Fine husband, great daddy to little Jessica, and a good provider, and he had that look. Sam saw that look in Franks eyes every time he saw Frank look at Sally. What was it Dionne Warwick called it? "The Look of Love." Yeah thats it, the look of love! Sam knew that look well, because it reminded him of the way he always looked at Mary. It was a look of admiration, of love, of quiet tender passion, of amazement that he had been so lucky to find her.

"Daddy? Dad!"

"Oh, what sweetheart?"

"Are you listening to Frank or not?"

"Oh sorry honey I was sort of day dreamin there."

"OK Sam, like I was about to say, Sally and I want you to come live with us. It would be great. We dont want you in this big house all alone, and Jessica would love to have Grandpa around all the time. And Sam, well you know how I feel about you, your like a second father to me. Ill listen to Limbaugh on the radio during work at the law firm and you listen to him at home, and during dinner every night we can both debate about what a liberal hes becoming!" Frank and Sam both laughed out loud, knowing that Limbaugh was about as conservative as they come.

About the only thing Sam and Frank ever argued about was which one of them was more conservative. Theyd take sides on a political issue and argue just for the fun of it. It wasn't that they were at opposite ends of an issue, they were always both on the same end of the issue. They'd just argue about who was the farthest to the right!

Frank would taunt Sam, "Good Lord Sam if I didnt know better Id think you were gettin all soft and gooey on the inside from old age. Youre starting to sound suspiciously like some liberal, commie, left wing, save the spotted owl, greenie conservationist."

"WHAT? Why you little sack of dog droppings, I was a conservative before you were even a twinkle in your papas eye. You call yourself a conservative? A lawyer whose a conservative? What a crock of cat puke, aint that a little like being a Catholic Rabbi?"

Theyd carry on that kind of friendly banter for hours. It was all in good fun and Sally knew that Sam and Frank had a special friendship, love, and respect for each other. Heck, they even went hunting, and fishing together. Sam had even taken Frank to his special mountain prospecting hideout on several occasions to do a little metal detecting and sluicing. Frank loved the great outdoors, but being a new partner at the law firm had made even greater demands on his time as of late. Unfortunately the outings with Sam had become fewer and farther in between.

"Now hold on a minute, you two!" Sam interrupted his own laughter about Franks comment that Rush Limbaugh was becoming too liberal for their taste.

"Frank I appreciate you and Sallys concern over me, but theres no need. Ill get along fine. I got a lot to do. My claim needs workin. Now that mom is gone, I can dedicate some real quality time on finding the mother load. I know its there somewhere. And well, you two kids have your family, and you dont need some old goat hornin in…..

"But Daddy, you are part of our family." Sally said.

"Yes, honey I know I am, but you know what they say about fish and house guests they all stink after three days."

"But Dad you wouldnt be a house gue--- "

Sam interrupted, "Now just stop right there, Ive already made up my mind, so save your breath. The day after your mom passed I went to the bank, and the brokerage firm. Ive taken care of all the paper work, I transferred all the stock your Mom and I had into you twos account and I set up a college fund for my little cutie there."


"Just listen and pay attention! Ive signed the house over to you, its been paid off, oh I dont know six, seven years ago. I took all the money out of the checking and savings accounts and closed them up, theres a cashiers check in that envelope made out to the both of you. I kept some money for myself to get me started full time up at the cabin and to get some things I need, but theres plenty left. It was all going to be yours after I died anyway, so now you can just be grateful as a pig with a new bucket of slop while Im still alive." He said with a smile.

"Sam, I dont think you have really thought this through." Frank said.

"Frank, Ive thought about this for years. I had even tried to talk your mother-in-law into selling this place and going to live at the cabin, like real pioneer folks. But you know Mary, she just didnt have that pioneering spirit. She wanted her bed in her house with her shower with plenty of hot water. Even when I located that hot springs up there by the cabin I couldnt convince her that was the same as having a bath with unlimited hot water. Im going to go up there and just try to forget about this rat race called life. Im just sick and tired of the way this society is goin. You cant turn on the television anymore without there being something about sex suggested, talked about, commented on, or alluded to. Im just too old fashioned. In my day sex was about love and it was sacred and private and it stayed in the bedroom with married folks, not on the television. Our criminal justice system is a joke. Let the killers that drive white Broncos go free but try and take law abiding citizen's guns away. Stinkin' greenies tryin' to close down every bit of the land God made to keep us from gettin' the gold that God put there for our express enjoyment. The liberal media, commie socialists, don't even get me started about them. Something is sure way wrong with where this society is goin and I for one am gettin off the train to hell. As they used to say in my day, Im droppin out. Im headin for the hills where all I have to worry about is how much gold I can detect and pull out of ol mother earth."

"I suppose theres no talking you out of this, I know how flippin' stubborn you are."

"Miss Sally! You watch that language of yours young lady!"

Sally laughed on the inside, thinking about what a foul mouth her dad could have when he got mad, but he got upset at her because she said "flippin." Why flippin' wasn't even a bad word; was it?

"And NO! You aint going to talk me out of it. Do me a favor if you would, I want to be out of here by about eight in the morning. Heres the keys to the house and the other car. Oh, I almost forgot the signed title to the other car is in that envelope with the cashiers check. Anyway, after Ive left, can you pack up your moms clothes? Take whatever you want. You know where her good jewelry is at. Mom wanted you to have it. Maybe you can pass it on down to little Jessie when she gets older. The clothes that you pack up, just have Salvation Army, or Catholic Social Services, or whoever, come and pick that stuff up."

Sam had already packed his things and only a few mementos of Mary. After all, a mountain man had to travel fast and light. He had packed their wedding picture, their 50th anniversary picture, and one of Marys pillow cases that had her rosary inside. Mary always kept her rosary inside her pillow case; she said it kept away bad dreams. Sam wondered just how many Hail Marys, Our Fathers and Glory Bes had been said on that string of beads over the years.

Frank and Sally didnt even know Sams camper shell covered four wheel drive pick up truck was sitting in the garage completely packed and ready to go. Sam was a man about to carry out a plan. It was a plan to "drop out" of society and just spend the rest of his time where he wouldnt be in anyones way.

Frank and Sally reluctantly accepted Franks decision, I mean what else could they do. It wasnt as if Sam was feeble minded, or was incapable of doing what he had set out to do. Quite the contrary, all through her life, Sally marveled at the fact that her dad just seemed to love a challenge. Sallys mom was quite a psychologist when it came to exploiting that side of Sams personality.


"Yes dear?"

"Its probably pretty hard to lay a ceramic floor isnt it?"

"Well of course it is. You have to make sure the darn thing is laid out just right, then you have to make sure the spacing is correct between the tiles. Then there is cutting and nipping the tiles around corners, its got to be a major pain in the rear end."

"Yeah thats what I thought. OK, Ill call some people out of the yellow pages tomorrow and get some estimates on doing the kitchen floor."

"Whatever you say dear." Sam conceded.

Mary knew that first thing in the morning Sam would be at the home improvement store getting everything he needed to lay a new ceramic floor in the kitchen. If Sam didnt know how to do it, hed read about it, research it, and asked questions until he figured it out. He was not about to let some stranger in his house to lay a ceramic floor for his wife. He was always like that, no hill too tall, no mountain too steep, that was Sallys daddy!

It was getting late so Sam walked Frank, Sally and little sleepy Jessie out to their car. A long hug and a kiss for Sally, a light loving kiss for "sleepy head", and a manly handshake for Frank. Well at least it started out that way until Frank pulled Sam into an embrace.

Frank whispered, "Sam, when youre ready, your family will be here waiting for you."

"Ya I know!" Sam broke the embrace and turned quickly so Frank wouldnt see the tears rolling down his cheeks. As he walked towards the house he said, "You kids be careful driving home now!"

When he felt he was far enough away from the car that his tears would not be detected he turned and waved goodbye, "Dont you guys worry about me, Ill be fine! Ill write whenever I can get into the post office in Good Hope."

Sam watched as they drove away. Gone, just like that! They vanished into the night, just as fast as Mary had vanished from his life. Yes he and Mary had been with one another 54 years all together, but it seemed like seconds compared to the four days of hell he had gone through since her death.

Sam showered and readied himself for bed. He stood in front of the mirror and grabbed his old trusty electric beard trimmer. He turned it on. It was the same old familiar motor hum hed heard for years. He usually kept his beard neat, short and well trimmed. Every night he'd touch up his graying beard just to make sure he looked his best. Some people might have thought that was sort of crazy to trim your beard every day, but Sam started doing a quick touch up before bed years ago when Mary commented once how much she loved to see him all neatly trimmed and freshly scrubbed.

Mary said she wasn't all that fond of facial hair anyway, but as long as Sam didn't allow himself to look scruffy, she said she could tolerate it. On some level Sam felt that Mary secretly like his rugged look, either that or she was just putting up with it, like she put up with his gold prospecting. So every night Sam with give himself a quick trim like he was about to go out on the town; he had always thought to himself, "A mans gotta look his best for his woman, cause you just never knew when ya might get lucky!"

He quickly turned the electric trimmer off, just as fast as these thoughts had flashed through his mind. He said out loud to himself, "Well, I guess I dont need this thing anymore do I Mary?" With that he pitched the old trimmer in the small plastic trash pail by the sink. He really didn't have anyone to look good for anymore. His Mary, the only woman he ever loved, would never be there to see him neatly trimmed and freshly scrubbed again.

Sam pulled on his pajamas and went into the bedroom. He started to climb into bed, but he couldnt do it. He couldnt sleep in their bed, not without Mary. So as he had done for the past nights, he grabbed his pillow and alarm clock, pulled the blanket from the bed, and retired to the couch downstairs in the basement. He couldnt get comfortable. His mind just wouldnt stop racing.

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Sam spent a fitful night, not sleeping much. The alarm went off at precisely 7:30 am, just as he had set it. Why did that old thing always have to be so reliable. No matter, Sam was anxious to get on with it.

He dressed quickly, and threw the alarm clock and a few odds and ends in an old duffel bag, topping it off by jamming his pillow in there. He wasn’t taking much, but he wasn’t going anywhere without his pillow. Mountain man or not, he was going to be a mountain man with a pillow.

One last check of the refrigerator to clean out what little he hadn’t already thrown away, take the garbage cans to the curb. The phone service would be cut off in a few days and he had already called and canceled the newspaper; something he should have done years ago, there wasn’t anything worth reading in that left wing rag sheet anyway.

That was it. That was all there was to do as far as the old homestead went. His life there was over. With Mary there, it was a home, now it was just a house, no different from the hundreds of unremarkable houses he passed everyday when he was running various errands.

He pulled out of the garage and hit the button on the automatic garage door remote. The garage door closed as swiftly as the darkness that fell on the happiness that was once his life.

A check of the gas gauge showed a full tank, just the way he had left it when he filled it the day before. But you can never be too careful, not when you’re a mountain gold prospectin’ man.

He backed into the street and shifted into drive, his foot still on the brake. He hesitated. Did he dare take one more look at the house that was once a home, or did he simply drive away without a parting glance? If he did look one last time, maybe Mary would be there on the porch waving to him. Maybe then he’d wake up from this nightmare that was now his life. But he knew it wasn’t a dream. The memories he had were not in that house, they would forever be inside him, occupying the space that was left when his heart was ripped from his chest. Sam shifted the car into drive and pressed the accelerator. He still wondered if he was running away from something or running to something. The answer was simple really, it was neither; there was nothing left in his life to run from or to.

He had a few stops to make before making the 297 mile trip to his claim. First stop was the farm & hardware supply store. He could get a small generator there, some extra gas cans, a supply of propane tanks for his little two burner camp stove; I mean even a mountain man needs a cup of hot coffee in the morning.. He also found something he didn’t even think of, a collapsible cart with wheels. That would make lugging his stuff that last mile he had to hike to the cabin a lot easier.

Sam was in and out of his first stop in record time.

"Let’s see, $523.33 I spent from my $2000, that leaves me about $1,500." Sam was mumbling to himself. "No, No, now you have to stop that, you can’t just let yourself get away with not thinkin'! Now figure it out to the penny. You’re going to have a different life now Sam, a life where you’re going to have to be able to think clearly, so you might as well get into the habit right now! OK then! I would have $1,500 left but I spent $23.33 more than $500, so if I round that to $25 and subtract it, that would mean I had $1475, but $25 is a $1.67 more than $23.33. So if I add $1.67 on to the $1,475, that means I have precisely $1476.67 left. There now that’s better, don’t be taking the easy way out Sam Nathaniel Lewis, you’re a better man than that. Shortcuts and doing things half way is for slackers."

One more stop; the Food Megahouse, had to get a good stock of canned goods, vegetables, fruit. Five or so cases of that canned stew he liked and some of that turkey chili. That stuff wasn’t too bad. It was pretty good on a cold day. Couldn’t stand the smell of the air about two hours later, but it went down easy when you were hungry. "Oh dang it!" Sam said to himself, "That reminds me, where the heck do they keep the toilet paper in this place? Mountain man or not I ain’t wipin’ on no stinkin' tree twigs and leaves. I wonder if there’s a formula for figuring out how many rolls of toilet paper you have to have for each case of chili?" "Soap, bath soap, where’s the soap? I got my towels but I need soap."

So it went, until Sam left with a wheeled flat full of provisions to the tune of $620.40. "Six twenty forty. Ha! Do you see that Mary?" Sam was thinking to himself again. "Six twenty forty! June 20, 1940, the day we were married! Are you trying to tell me something Mary? You're watchin' over me aren't ya' darlin'!"

Sam stopped for a moment. He convinced himself that it was just coincidence. After all it was Mary that was the religious one, he wasn’t even sure if there was a heaven, or God for that matter. He lost his faith when Johnny was killed in that car accident. What kind of a God lets an innocent young boy with his whole life in front of him die, and let’s a miserable old drunk walk away without a scratch? Not any God he could believe in. But if there was a heaven he knew Mary was there! Heck she was probably telling God she was going to call some contractors tomorrow and get some bids on remodeling the place.

Well the bed of his pick ‘um up was jammed to the top of the shell, and it was time to hit the road.

"Nine fifty-seven. Record time!" Sam thought to himself. He could be on the interstate in another 10 minutes, that’s 10:07, then 162 miles to the exit, that should take 2 ½ hours maximum , that’s 12:37. Get gas, some drive through fast food, should make it one o’clock even. The next 130 miles was two lane, and might take two hours if he made good time. So that would make it about three o’clock when he reached the turn off and had to go into four wheel drive.

The turn off was just five miles outside the old mining town of Good Hope, population 79. The next three miles was all off road through the tall timbers of a land that was once a boomin’ mining area over a hundred years ago. A little known and never traveled back road would take Sam up to his claim; his little world, away from the world. That three miles was a killer. Fifteen minutes was the best time he had ever made on that ol’ cow path, and now he’d have to be especially careful. He couldn’t afford to be fixing flat tires or having a broken axle. So he better figure another 25 minutes for that part of the journey, that would make it Three Twenty-five, then he had to pack it in on foot to the cabin, just a bit shy of a mile. He’d take only the bare necessities from the truck for tonight, then he’d bring his canned goods up as he needed them. He could hike that last mile in about 15 minutes or less, so that would be Three forty - great no sweat. Plenty of daylight left to get settled in for the night. That collapsible cart yeah that would be the ticket, Sam was glad he ran into that thing. In the days to come he could get his exercise walking back down to the truck and wheeling his provisions up to his mountain retreat; oh he had a lot to do to make this his new place of residence.


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He had that last mile hike down to a science. In fact he sort of liked to do a fast walk, it was great exercise. That cart would slow him down a bit. He usually used his big back pack to lug stuff up to the cabin when he was going for a long weekend, but this was different. He wasn’t going just for a visit; this was where he'd be hangin' his buckskin gold pouch from now on.

He recalled a couple of years back when it was one of those summers in the high desert that just made it unbearable to go metal detect the local haunts. He didn’t know why they called it the high desert, it was only about 2100 feet above sea level. But that particular summer they were experiencing days when it was 109 degrees in the shade!

Sam took to the air conditioned comfort of the public library to start looking for an area with a little higher elevation and a little lower temperatures. He had studied some old maps, and did quite a bit of reading when he happened across an area that looked just about right. It was about a five to five and a half hour drive away, but he would soon learn that when it was 109 in the high desert, it could be anywhere from 75 to 89 degrees up there at 7200 feet in the Techatticup mountains, where the little sleepy town of Good Hope was nestled among the tall timbers. That's how he came to learn about Good Hope.

He thought about the first trip he had ever made to that area. After about four and a half hours of driving, things sure started to look different. Gone were the cactus, and the desert flat lands and tumble weeds. They had been replaced by green carpets of vegetation and beautiful mountain flowers growing alongside the highway and so many mountains that you couldn’t tell where one started and the other stopped. The glorious smell of pine and fresh air was a index aroma. It had been a long time since he had taken a breath of air that didn’t smell of automobile exhaust.

He looked at the road laid out in front of him. It looked like a long sleepy snake just basking in the glow of a sun drenched day. He didn’t ever recall the sky being such a stunning shade of blue. Off in the distance, with the mountains as a backdrop, he could see majestic pine trees as they stretched skyward, some of them just barely tickling the bottom of fluffy cotton like clouds that laid lazily around the mountains. He recalled that the mountains were so high they were actually above the clouds. Who was the reclusive artist that had painted this magnificent landscape, because surely it was a painting, it couldn’t be real.

The difference in the temperature between his home in the booming suburb of Desert Rose and the mountains soon became apparent when he realized that it was too cold with the air conditioner on in his car. He turned it off and opened all the windows and like a crazy high school kid he put the pedal to the metal and headed for Good Hope, while he sang at the top of his voice, John Denver’s song, Rocky Mountain High. Well at least he sang what he knew of it, the part about "Rocky Mountain High, Colorado…" the rest of the tune was filled in with enthusiastic la, la, la’s. There was only one song that Sam knew all the words to by heart; "Through the Years" by Kenny Rogers; that was "their" song.

As he slowly passed through the little town of Good Hope he wondered what it would be like to live in such a beautiful secluded place. They had to be at least seventy miles from anything that even resembled a big city. It seemed like they had what they needed to get by. He noticed an old two story building that said General Store. In the window was also a sign that said Post Office. There was a little café called Mabel’s, and a gas station that looked more like a house with one antique pump sitting in the driveway. But, there was a sign that said "GAS - Open for Business." And there was even a little church. The one thing he didn’t notice was a police station. Why heck, people there probably didn’t even have locks on their doors.

A little outside the town of Good Hope he pulled off the road and consulted his map. By golly he may not have found much gold, not yet anyway, but he had plenty of maps. Why the back of his pickup truck looked like he was a traveling salesman for Rand McNally. There it was, the place he had highlighted. There was a string of five locations on the map indicating mines and he had figured out the approximate GPS locations. He entered the coordinates into his GPS and was pleased to see that he was only a couple of miles away.

He found the mines he was looking for that first trip, but not much else. There was a lot of trash, and old worthless artifacts, but his metal detector never did sound off on anything that ended up even being remotely related to gold. Sam didn't mind, it was sort of an adventure just exploring new places. He fell in love with that place. It was quiet, and peaceful, and untarnished by modern day man. He took a lot of pictures on that first trip. Maybe if he had swung more and snapped less he would have found some yellow metal.

Over the next three months he had gone back up there again on two occasions. He’d always try to make at least a three day trip out of it. He’d just sleep in the back of his pickup truck, and cook on his little two burner stove. He wasn’t finding any gold, but he was sure enjoying the wildlife and the scenery. There was just something that kept tugging at him to go back again.

In early September when he told Mary he was thinking about heading out again, she asked in passing, "How is it you go on these three day gold hunting expeditions but I never see any gold? If it wasn’t for the fact that you come home with so many dirty clothes and you smell like you been wrestling goats I’d think you had a woman on the side. But then I always tell myself who the heck would want an old fart like you anyway, besides me?" And she’d laugh that laugh of hers, the one that was music to Sam’s ears. All the heavenly choirs of Angels and Saints singing couldn’t make Sam’s heart skip a beat like Mary’s laughter.

Sam thought perhaps this time he should be a little more persistent in his quest and try to bring home something sort of nuggety, just to show Mary that he wasn't all smoke and mirrors. After all, he didn’t want her to think he was leaving town just to get away from her, because nothing could have been further from the truth. So on this trip he decided that when he got into Good Hope he’d stop at the General Store and have a chat with the keeper and maybe some of the locals.

That was the day he met Billy Beaumont and his wife Ellen and their nine year old daughter, Peggy. Billy was a descendent from one of the original miners that worked that area back in 1863. His family had always ran the general store in Good Hope, and Billy inherited the business when his daddy had passed away some eight years earlier.

It was a nice little store. There was a little bit of everything. Canned goods, soda, over the counter medications, and a little section of the store dedicated to hardware. When Sam first entered the store Billy met him with a "Howdy Stranger." Sam gave him a big smile, and returned a greeting,

"Hi, there! My name is Sam, Sam Lewis, I live about 5 hours away in Desert Rose, outside of Nelson. I been coming up here for the past few months and camping out. It sure is glorious up here." Sam was eager to put Billy’s mind at ease as he figured they probably didn’t get many strangers up in those parts and they might be a bit suspicious of a man all by himself.

"Yeah, we like it. It ain’t got all the modern conveniences like you probably do in Desert Rose, but we ain’t got all the modern problems up here either."

Sam continued, "Well heck, it’s good to know you have such a well supplied little store here because I’ll just start buying my canned goods here when I come up to these parts instead of haulin' them from Desert Rose."

"Well we’re always happy to index a new customer, by the way excuse my manners, my name is Billy Beaumont, and that pretty lady over there stocking shelves is my wife Ellen. Ellen, say hi to Sam, he’s from Desert Rose, he comes up here camping."

"Nice to meet you Sam." said Ellen, without losing her rhythm of can from box to shelf.

Sam had accomplished what he had hoped for, in a few short minutes he had been transformed from a stranger to a new customer.

Sam picked up a few items, a tank of propane, a liter of Pepsi; things he could use but didn’t necessarily need right then. However, he wanted to show good faith.

As he approached the counter Billy said, "Will that be all for you Mr. Lewis."

"Not quite." said Sam.

"What else do you need?"

"Well I need for you to call me Sam! Mr. Lewis makes me feel old, and as you can see I’m old enough already."

"You got it Sam!" Just then something caught Sam’s eye inside the glass counter case.

"Wow, what’s that little baby down there?"

"Sam, that is a Diatonics Meisterklasse Harmonica with all metal reeds. Do you play?"

"No, I’ve always wanted to learn. My dad used to play a harmonica like you wouldn’t believe."

"Well Sam there’s no time like the present. I’ll tell you what, this Harmonica retails for $79.95 but I can let you have it for $65 out the door, can you swing that?"

"Sounds like a good deal to me! Wrap it up. Any free lessons come with that?"

"Sam if you need any help you let me know, but most of the best harmonica players I know picked it up all on their own, it’s easy, it just takes practice. By the way, if there is ever anything you need that we don’t have we can usually get it for you by the next day. We just have to call our supplier down in Beaverville. Being a small store we can’t stock everything. But we’ve ordered just about everything over the years from wheel barrows, to pregnancy test kits."

"BILLY BEAUMONT! What did you say?" asked his wife in a demanding tone?

"Oh nothing important dear I was just telling Sam that our neighbor’s cat was PREGNANT and had KITTENS."

Billy winked at Sam, "My wife’s a bit of a prude. That’s what happens when you marry the preacher’s daughter."

"Oh you got one of them prudes too? Maybe your wife knows my wife, Mary." They both laughed.

"Say Billy, I don’t suppose you could help me with some information."

"Well I will if I can."

"Well I got a sort of crazy hobby, and I’m always sort of reluctant to talk about it because some folks think it’s sort of neat and other people just think I’m plain nuts. But a few years back I started metal detecting looking for gold. I do some panning and sluicing, I’m not going to get rich off of it, but it’s a fun hobby and it keeps an old retired coot like me out of trouble and out of the cemetery. I’ve been looking around these parts for the past couple of months but I’m sort of reluctant to wander or explore too far because I don’t want to trespass on anyone’s property and I don’t want folks getting mad at me. I just sorta’ don’t want to be in anyone’s way or be any trouble. You folks seem to have a quiet little place up here and I don’t want to do anything to disrupt it."

"Well Sam you must have done your homework because way way back this was one heck of an area for gold. I’m a descendant of one of the original prospectors. Somewhere upstairs where we live I’ve got a family tree. My daddy left me an old chest with all kinds of hand drawn maps and stuff. We usually don’t like to talk about this stuff because we don’t want to be invaded by a thousand city folk up here tearing up the country side looking for the Mother Lode."

"Billy I know exactly what you mean and one of the reasons I like it up here is because it’s so nice and quiet. I don’t want that either and believe me, I haven’t told anyone about this place except my wife and immediate family, and I’m not going to tell anyone either."

"Well Sam, based on those assurances, maybe I can give you some help, but only under one condition?"

"What’s that?" Sam thought to himself, "Well how much is this going to cost me?"

"If you do find any gold can you let me buy some to put in my case to sell. I mean it don’t look good for this to be an old mining town and we don’t even have a few speck of gold to sell to the few tourists we get through here. Every month during vacation season we get a tour bus that comes through, usually filled with a lot of Asian tourists. I love tourists, they will buy anything that even remotely looks like a souvenir. Asian folks are all so friendly and energetic, they always have a smile and are interested by anything that has to do with American culture. A year ago I had one fella that offered me $250 for a pair of deer antlers that was hanging up on the wall from a buck I had shot."

"Whadya’ do?" Sam inquired.

"Hey you don’t see no deer antlers on the wall do ya’?"

"No I sure don’t!"

"Sam they invade this place like bees taking to a new hive. Click, click, click, camera flashes going off all over the place, I swear I’m going to get retina damage. What is so darn interesting in this place that they have to take pictures of? Why I bet Ellen and me have had our pictures taken 10,000 times. They make you feel like a movie star or something. They want to stand with you and put their arm around your shoulder while their wife takes a picture, then they trade places. Click, click, click, dangdest thing I ever did see. But hey, they spend money! And they’re nice and very enthusiastic. They make me laugh though, I love the way they talk, their English is pretty good but they have such a funny accent, "Oh you hava' vely nice store, I take picture now OK? OK! Click click, click. Damn, it just cracks me up!"

"BILLY BEAUMONT! You’re not cussing again are you?"

"No dear, I was just asking Sam if he’d ever seen Ten Mile Creek Dam."

"Sam, I’m sorry. Back to this gold hunting of yours."

"Well first Billy, let me tell ya’ if you steer me in the right direction, I’ll be happy to let you buy a few pieces. I have to take some home to my wife though, just so she knows I’m making this silly hobby of mine pay off!"

"Hey it sounds like a deal to me. So first tell me where you have been going?"

"Well you know about 2 miles North of here up in the mountains to the East there are those five old mines."

"Yeah, sure do, it’s the Lucky Boy, Golden Lady, Timberland, Jubilee, and the Mulberry. We used to play in them all the time when he were kids."

"Well that’s where I've been goin'."

"Well Sam I’m going to have to get into that old trunk of dad’s and pull out some of those old maps to probably be of any real help, but I can tell you this much. When I was about twelve Dad and I would always go about four miles outside of town. On the West side of the road, off in the timber about a mile or so there are all kinds of little streams and creeks. That’s where we used to always go and pan for gold. We never found anything very big, a few pickers now and then, but mostly it was just something for dad and me to do when we weren’t hunting. So, I don’t know if that gives you any kind of help or not, but I just know that Dad used to say you could find free gold on the West side of the road. When I was little I never quite understood what he meant. I thought he meant if you found gold on the East side of the road you had to pay somebody for it, but on the West side it was free. As I got older my Dad explained to me that free gold was gold that had fallen out of some vein of gold that had been in rocks that were millions of years old. It was gold that you didn't have to work in a mine to get, so he said he reckoned that's why they called it free gold. Of course I'm probably telling you stuff you already know, but I sure had good times when Dad and I went prospecting. Listen you don’t have a CB radio in your vehicle do ya'?"

"Sure do."

"Well Sam check back with me on Channel 14 tomorrow, we always monitor Channel 14 here, and I’ll look through the trunk tonight and see if I find anything that looks like it might help you."

"Hey Billy, already you’ve helped a lot, I don’t want to have to pay for any gold I find, so I better get my butt, whoops did your wife hear me? I’d better get my hindquarters over on the "West" side of the road where all the FREE gold is!" They both chuckled.

"Good plan Sam, hey listen I enjoyed meeting you and talking, don’t be a stranger."

"Don’t worry about that Billy, I think this will be the beginning of a little partnership. You tell me where to go, I’ll go there find some gold, and you buy it, and sell it and make a profit. Sounds like a win win situation to me!"

"Take care Sam!"

"You too Billy. Nice meeting you Ellen!"

Sam stuck his new harmonica in his pocket and put the cola and propane on the floor of his truck. He thought to himself, "That was a mighty productive stop you made there Mr. Lewis!"


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That was a stop that proved to be very worthwhile indeed. Sam traveled about four miles out of town and this time went off road to the West; where he could look for gold he didnt have to pay for!

That was a good trip for him. Just like Billy had told him. There were streams back in the timbers leading up to the mountains. Metal detecting the little gullies around those streams turned up three quarters of an ounce of gold. The biggest piece was 8 pennyweight and the next was 5 pennyweight. Then there were a few bits and pieces that totaled just a tad over 15 pennyweight. He was elated!

On the way back through town he stopped at the General Store. As he walked through the front door Billy looked up from his newspaper,

"Sam, dont you ever turn that CB radio of yours on?"

"Billy my boy I was too busy finding us some gold!"

"Youre kidding, you actually found a few specks?"

"Oh yeah, I found a few specks OK. Hold your hand out, heres a speck for you." Sam let the 5 penny weighter plop into Billys hand..

Billy looked at it, and looked up at Sam in disbelief.

"No way! You panned this chunk?"

"Nope! Welcome to the 20th century Billy. I found that little baby with a metal detector."

"No Way! Ellen come and look at what Sam found. OK Sam, now how much do I owe you?"

"Well Billy, nuggets sell for around $13 to $15 a gram, I dont know how many Yen that will be for your Asian friends, but so you can make a profit how about I sell the nuggets to you for $9 a gram."

"Hey that sounds fair to me so how many grams is this one?"

"Well that one is roughly 8 grams, a quarter of an ounce."

"So that would be $72 right?"

"Not that one Billy! That ones a gift from me. After all youre the one that pointed me in the right direction. Want a little hint on how to make the most of that little beauty? Take that one to a jewelry store, have a bale soldered on it and give it to Ellen for a pendant."

Billys eyes lit up, "Hey thats a great idea Sam, a guy can always use a few extra points where the wife is concerned. Sam have you got a little time to look at those maps?"

"You bet."

Well that was the beginning of a long mutually beneficial relationship between Sam and Billy. During that first year Sam never failed to find gold each trip he made up to Good Hope. Hed always stop and see Billy on the way out of town and sell Billy a few nuggets for his display case.

About nine months into his adventure was when he had found the old miners cabin. What a day that was!

His hunting had taken him about a mile further North, but he was still working the West side; didnt want to have to pay for all that gold he was finding! Since he had learned the lay of the land he had been averaging over an ounce a trip.

He had become a regular customer at the jewelry store in Desert Rose. He had a pendant made, earrings, a ring, a bracelet, a stick pin, a broach. Why he didnt dare take Mary around water, if she fell in wearing all that gold shed sink like a lead weight.

June 4th, that was the date, he still remembered it. He had been metal detecting the little gullies that ran into a creek. He started finding little nuggets around a gram and as he worked further up stream the pieces started getting bigger. He was quite a ways from his truck when he came to a place where the South side of the bank of the stream narrowed to a path of about a foot or so because a steep wall of the mountainside jutted out. After negotiating the narrow pathway, and rounding the bend, there it was. He stood in amazement feeling as if he had been transported back in time.

Hunkered in a little canyon in a draw in the mountain was an old log cabin. It was like something out of the movies. He approached with caution yelling, "Anybody home?" But he was pretty sure the only thing that old cabin was home to was probably a few spiders and forest critters. That humble abode probably hadnt had a human soul inside it for over a hundred years.

He put his metal detector and pick down on the ground and gently pushed the old wood door open. It just fell off the hinges and struck the floor with a thud throwing up a puff of dust. Sam jumped back about three feet and wondered if hed brought enough clean underwear, because after that little incident he felt as if he might be ready for a change. The sun's rays struggled through the two dirty windows that amazingly were still intact. Sam entered the cabin with all the reverence of a person entering church on Easter Sunday. "Oh my!" Sam declared out loud, "If these walls could only talk, what stories would they tell?" There was an old pot belly stove, and the remnants of a wooden frame that looked to be a bed once upon a time. Sitting beside the bed was a small empty wood nail keg that had probably been used as a small table. There was still an old oil burning lantern hanging on a peg by the door. Other than that, the place looked pretty bare.

That was the day Sam decided he should try to file a claim on that area. If the claim went through he could invest a few dollars in that old cabin and fix it up. It would beat sleeping in his truck, and besides it would be fun.

Well in the months to follow, Sam got his claim filed and accepted. He now had 400 plus acres of prime natural gold bearing beautiful earth. He was sure that his claim would go through because his son-in-law, Frank, had helped him with it; only time he knew of an attorney to be good for something.

During that time he spent his trips to Good Hope not prospecting, but fixing up that old cabin. Basically it was a sound little structure. It just needed cleaning up, and some patching up, and some roof repairs. He even talked Mary and Sally into coming up there with he and Frank to give it the womans touch. Under Marys protestations, she gathered her cleaning gear and loaded it in the pickup truck. She complained the whole way, while secretly she appreciated being included in Sams project. The good natured ribbing stopped about the time she saw the beauty of the mountain retreat where Sam had been spending a weekend a month for almost a year.

"Well I guess it is sort of pretty up here."

"Not as beautiful as you are my dear wife!" Sam replied.

"Oh go one with ya! You dont have to butter me up, you already got me going up to this hell hole of yours to clean it up."

Sally and Frank were in the back seat giggling like 12 year old school girls over Sam and Marys carrying on.

After that weekend of fixin and cleaning, and patching, the place had really started to take shape. Mary had even brought a tape measure and took the size of the windows so she could make some curtains when she got back to civilization.


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Every trip Sam made to Good Hope would involve another item of adornment for the cabin. A small table and chairs, some throw rugs, and the biggest item of all, a bunk bed. He needed Frank’s help for that one. It took three trips to get that darn thing hauled in there from the truck. The frame was knocked down and it wasn’t too hard to carry. It was easy enough to assemble, a few nuts and bolts. But the mattresses, those were a different story. At first, Sam and Frank figured manly men should be able to stack two mattresses over their heads and hike a mile with no problem. However, they soon found out that those mattresses had a mind of their own. If Sam and Frank wanted to go left the mattresses wanted to go right. They finally resigned themselves to the fact that they would have to make two trips.

After they got the second mattress into the cabin they just let go of it. It fell like a chopped tree onto the cabin floor.

"Hey Frank, look at that, no dust!"

"Yeah, those wives of ours are cleaning fools."

Like two Olympic synchronized swimmers they both dove onto the soft support of the mattresses and just laid there exhausted from their mattress carrying marathon.

"Hey Frank."

"Yeah Sam?"

"Are we dying or are we just pooped?"

"Sam, I’m too tired to poop, so I must be dying."

"Dang it Frank, don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much."

Well that had been a fun filled two years, exploring his claim, finding that hot spring with two pools of warm clear water. The hot springs were perfect for a nice leisurely bath to get the mountain dust and grime off and to soak away the aches and pains of old age. Nearby, down the mountain below the warm springs was a big cave that was always about 74 degrees year round, rain or shine, sun or snow. Sam theorized that the spring must have had something to do with the temperature of the cave. The walls on one side of the cave were warm to the touch and the walls on the other side of the cave were cool.

He even thought about the possibility of making that his winter home, but quickly abandoned that idea when he found the cave was populated with bats, and enough bat doo to fertilize all the desert around the suburb of Desert Rose. Sam often wondered what ghastly experiment had gone awry when God ended up making bats; hideous little vermin. Logically he knew they were the reason that his mountain resort was relatively bug free, but emotionally he knew they were going to find a way into his cabin some night and suck the blood right out of his body. "YUK!" It gave him the shivers every time he thought about it.

Those were the fun times! The five years since he had moved there after Mary’s death had gotten increasingly more difficult with each year.

The first year was pretty productive, gold wise. He’d usually average an ounce a week of nice nuggets and some little stuff. He could have gotten more, but he didn’t feel pressured to metal detect every day, like he did when he just visited for a weekend. Billy, true to his word, would buy the nuggets Sam wanted to sell him. Sam even dropped his price to $8 a gram. Sam wouldn’t always take cash, many times he just told Billy to credit his account at the general store. The general store and the gas station were the only places he ever spent money anyway, so it wasn’t as if he needed much cash.

That first year was filled with metal detecting, sluicing, reading, exploring, and whittlin’. After all you couldn’t be a real mountain man unless you knew how to carve animals and the like out of pieces of wood. And he was teaching himself to play the harmonica. In the evenings, Sam would take up residence outside his cabin sitting on a porch swing that he had made himself. He’d pick out the notes one by one to "Through the Years", it was, after all, "their" song, and trying to play it somehow made him still feel connected. It wasn’t long before he had mastered "their" song, and every night, just after dinner, the creatures of the forest were treated to the most beautiful harmonica rendition of "Through the Years" that they had probably ever heard. The birds even seemed to sing along with the melody.

Playing that song each evening was Sam’s way of letting Mary know, that she was still part of his soul, and always on his mind.

As the years came and went, so did the gold. It was getting so he could barely find 5 grams a week. He had run up a debt of over $500 at the General Store. Billy kept buying whatever nuggets Sam found, but Sam couldn’t help but notice Billy was getting quite a display case full of nuggets.

"You sure you need more nuggets Billy? It don’t look like sales have been too great by looking at your inventory here."

"Oh, no, I’ll take all you got." Billy said with feigned enthusiasm. "As soon as vacation season comes around and those tour buses start droppin’ in with my customers, those nuggets will fly out of here."

"Well OK, as long as I’m not overloading you."

Sam couldn’t help but notice that Ellen was rolling her eyes when Billy was talking about "nuggets flying out of here."

The metal detector had died a few years back, and whatever disease it had, his truck caught too because it died soon after. Sam had to resort to panning for little flakes of gold and a little nugget now and then. With his metal detector out of commission he wasn't finding enough gold to afford to get his detector or his truck fixed. When he needed to go to town he’d just walk the four miles out of the timber to the highway and catch a ride into Good Hope. Sam had been around those parts long enough that most everyone knew him. Those that really knew him, thought well of the generous old mountain prospector who always bought hard candy at the general store to give to the town’s children. Those people outside of Good Hope that only "knew of him", just considered him some crazy old hermit.

Billy had told Sam whenever he needed something to just power his generator up, and get on the CB radio and give him a call and he would bring supplies up to him. When Billy was ready to leave the store he’d call Sam and let him know. That gave Sam enough time to walk down from his cabin and meet Billy at the truck. Or Billy would just leave the stuff in the bed of the broke down pick up truck and close the shell to keep the animals out.

When it was in the dead of winter that CB radio was Sam's only life line. If Billy didn’t hear from Sam each day, Billy would hop on his snow mobile and take a run up to Sam’s cabin to make sure everything was OK. Everything was always OK, when he went to check, with the exception that once Sam couldn’t get the generator to start because it needed a new spark plug, and another time, a wire had shorted out in the microphone on the CB. Both times, Billy came to the rescue. He analyzed the crisis, and zoomed off across the snow covered mountain side to return in less than an hour with whatever was needed to get Sam back in business. Billy would also bring the letters that came every two weeks from Sally and Frank. The letters were always full of news and included pictures of Jessica. Boy was she ever getting big. Sam had never been back to Desert Rose since he had left five years before.

According to Sally’s letters, Frank had been really doing well at the law firm. He now headed up their mergers and acquisitions division. Frank was no dummy when it came to playing the stock market either. His hard work had been paying off. He and Sally had built a big new two story home with five bedrooms. Sally said her and Frank wanted a big ol’ fashion Catholic family. "Daddy, Frank and I are going to have so many little kids running around here people will think we’re Mormons!" Sam laughed at that one. In one of Sally’s letters she sent pictures of the new house and a beautiful little two story guest house with a balcony situated out in the back by the pool. It had a wood sign on it that said, "Grandpa’s Place." There was always the plea from Sally for Sam to come home where he belonged. "Daddy, Frank even had your own little place built out back. Jessie helped Frank make the sign."

Sam would write back and tell them he was fine and he was just way too busy to come back for a visit. The truth was, he was too embarrassed to tell them he didn’t even have a car that ran anymore. Finally, in one of the letters he wrote to Sally and Frank he said, "I’ll make you kids a deal. Sally, you know that buckskin pouch you bought me for my birthday a long time ago, the one you told me you got so I’d have something to keep my gold in? Well when I get that pouch filled up with gold then I’ll come back for a visit." That seemed to quiet Sally down and she hardly ever asked when Sam was coming to live with them in her letters anymore, she’d just write, "How full is that pouch getting?" Sam had once wrote in reply that the fullest that pouch ever got was when he would put it under the tree at Christmas, and the next morning it was always full of coal. That really wasn’t the whole truth. He did put it under the tree each Christmas, just in case, but when morning came it never had coal in it, it never had anything in it. It was just as Sam had suspected. There was no God, and no Santa either.


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Sam was snapped back to the here and now by yet another bone rattling shiver that started at his toes and rippled all the way up his body until he felt like his ears were going to turn inside out. "Na, I don’t think that first one could have been a 7.2. My gosh, the aftershock I just had was at least a 9."

Sam was still talking to himself and laughing as he stretched his wretched old frame and tried to get some of his frozen joints to loosen up. He grabbed the big wool blanket off his bed, wrapped it around him, and walked across the wood floor to the old cast iron stove. He nudged the door open and jammed a couple of logs in. He stuck the poker in and stirred up what was left of the glowing embers trying to stir up enough heat to get the fresh fuel to ignite.

Sam shuffled back to the warmth of his bed and pulled the covers over his head. This last five years had seemed like an eternity. He had truly become the man that they sang about in one of those old country western songs, "He was tired of living, but too scared to die."

He laid there under the covers thinking of the things he had to do that day. After all it was December 24th, Christmas Eve day. Mary and he would have been married 57 years today if she was alive, because it wasn’t just Christmas Eve, it was their wedding anniversary too. Even though he was all alone, there were still some things he did every Christmas Eve that were tradition when he and Mary were together. In honor of her memory he still did those things, because he knew that’s the way she would have wanted it.

The cabin started to warm as old faithful started to devour the logs Sam had fed her earlier. The warmth of the morning sun started to stream through the windows and helped hurry along the warming process. Sam finally got up and put on his old plaid long sleeved red flannel shirt and pulled on his overalls. He put a kettle of water on top of the potbelly to start warming and opened a can of beans, and slid it alongside the kettle. "OK so it ain’t hot oat meal but in a few hours I’ll be able to fumigate this place and kill any bats that might have snuck in during the night." A voice in a different tone responded, "Yeah well the strength of your fumigation process combined with the open flame in that old stove may just cause an explosion that blows your sorry carcass all the way into Good Hope." Beans in the morning, definitely not what your mom used to make for breakfast, but they filled the hole.

Sam looked out the window and was relieved to see that the storm that had been predicted had not come during the night. It was cold, but there was only about four inches of old packed snow on the ground, and at least the sun was shining.

Sam put on his stocking cap, heavy tattered jacket and his gloves. He grabbed his .22 rifle, and his small hatchet and was out the door by eight o’clock. He had to get himself a rabbit for his traditional Christmas Eve dinner. First he’d clean it, then roll it in flour with salt and pepper, then fry it in bacon grease. Then he’d put it in a dutch oven with about a ½ inch of water and let it steam itself for an hour until it was cooked to falling off the bone perfection. He’d mix up some of those dried mash potato flakes he’d been saving for this occasion and use the juices and leavings in the bottom of the dutch oven for gravy. Umm, his mouth was watering just thinking about it. He might even try to make a few biscuits if he had any biscuit mix left.

Then he had to cut down a little tree for Christmas. Mary always waited until Christmas Eve to put up the tree and decorate it. It was part of the fun and anticipation for her. He didn’t have any lights, but he had collected colorful pieces of clothe that he tied together and used as a garland, and he had a wonderful assortment of hand carved ornaments. Why there were probably over a hundred little hand made animals and snow flakes and stars and little nutcracker soldiers that he had whittled over the years. Then there was "The Angel." He had taken great care to carve "The Angel" that adorned the top of the tree, because a long while back he had found the most unusual nugget he had ever seen. It reminded him of a halo. He had carved that angel with such precision and care, that when he was finished he was able to snap the halo shaped gold nugget right into the intricate groove he had carved around the angel’s head. It was magnificent, if he didn’t say so himself.

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The only thing he had ever carved that he was more proud of was a nativity scene. He had made a stable from twigs and pieces of bark, and had actually thatched a roof made out of dried mountain grass. He had then painstakingly carved Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds, and the animals and the wise men and even the baby Jesus.

On Christmas Eve night when his wife, Mary, was still alive, after the tree was up and decorated, and the presents had been placed under the tree, Mary would go to the special heavy corrugated storage box. With great reverence and respect she would gently lift out their nativity set. She would sit by the tree and gently unwrap each statue and lovingly place it inside the stable. The little hand painted plaster form of Jesus was always the last thing she would place inside. Before she placed Jesus inside the stable she would raise the small figurine to her lips and kiss it ever so lightly. As she situated baby Jesus between Mary and Joseph every year she would look up at Sam and say the same thing. "We must never forget, or let our children forget, that Christmas is about this little baby Sam! It’s not about presents, it’s not about Santa, it’s about the baby Jesus and what He did for us."

"Yes, I know honey, but it’s time that we get to bed, morning will come pretty early when the kids start yelling for us to get up."

"Wo, there’s a fat one, steady, steady!" Crack went the old rifle and Sam had nailed his Christmas Eve dinner with one shot. "You might be old Sam Lewis, but you’re still a deadly shot!" he was talking to himself again, no, make that still!

He threw his, soon to be dinner, in a gunny sack and trudged off in search of a nice little tree. Actually little trees were pretty darn hard to find in those parts. If he didn’t mind a 90 foot fir tree that would take about 2 ½ months to cut down by hand it would have been no problem, there were plenty of those to be had. However he probably wouldn’t have enough garland or ornaments to decorate the thing. It actually took him more time to find the tree and chop it down than it did to find that rabbit and dispatch it.

Then he had to drag that bugger back to the cabin. He must have been 2 ½ to 3 miles away. He arrived back around 2:00 pm or so. After stoking the stove and adding some wood, he opened a can of chili and placed it on the stove to heat while he went outside to gut and skin his kill. He took the skin and nailed it to the side of the cabin. Between the freezing cold and the occasional wayward bird, by spring it would be a relatively clean pelt that he’d use for something.

Sam gulped down a few bites of chili, and started preparing the main course. As the rabbit simmered in the skillet he set up the tree and quickly threw the ragged garland around it, before having to stop and turn the rabbit over to brown on the other side. He pulled out an old cardboard box from under the bed and brought it over to the tree. He quickly hung all the ornaments that he had carved over the years, and crowned the tree with the majestic gold nugget haloed angel.

The cabin was filling with the aroma of fresh fried rabbit, and he hurried to remove the skillet before it became too brown. He lifted the dutch oven down from the shelf and used the tail of his flannel shirt to wipe the dust from inside. He placed the golden brown pieces in one by one, added the water, placed the lid on top and placed it to the rear of the stove where it could slowly bake.

He poured some water into a pan to start warming it for the mashed potatoes and biscuits. "Oh my, I do have some biscuit mix left don’t I?" He went rummaging through his little wooden cabinet and there in the back was an old box of biscuit mix. When he started to remove the box he spotted a can of green beans that had gotten shoved to the rear. "Whoopee!" he exclaimed, "Biscuits and green beans! We are going to have a party tonight!" He prepared the biscuit mix and scooped out four globs of dough into a heavy old iron skillet and covered them with an old cookie sheet. He opened the can of green beans and put them on the stove to heat.

He suddenly realized that the sun was setting fast and it was getting very dark. He reached for the old lantern and lit it, adjusting the wick so that it would burn clean. He also lit one of his candles that he only used for emergencies, but this was a special night. As the sun fell he directed his attention back to the old cardboard box. It was time. It was time to engage in the ritual that Mary held so dear all the years that they were married.

He knelt down by the tree and removed the stable that he had made. One by one he placed the hand carved figures inside, just as delicately as she had done. When he came to the carving of the baby Jesus he looked out the window, into the great darkness that had fallen outside and said softly, "This is for you Mary." he then brought the baby Jesus to his lips and gently kissed it. As a tear rolled down his cheek he placed Jesus between His Mother and His Father in the stable.


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Somehow the evening became solemn. He finished preparing his meal and sat down to eat. It was delicious, but for some reason he just wasn’t as hungry as he had thought. Why this was a meal any mountain man would pay dearly for, but it just didn’t do the trick. It was six o’clock already and black as pitch. There were still a few things left to do before he retired.

He drug the small generator out on the porch and fired it up. Darn thing was getting harder and harder to start. He plugged the extension cord in and ran it under the door over to the old CB radio. He turned it on and adjusted the squelch to quiet the static.

"Hey Billy, are you on the air, this is Sam. Hey Billy! Yo Billy!"

"Hey Sam I read you loud and clear, you OK?"

"Yeah Billy I’m just fine, I just had a great fried rabbit dinner. Got my tree up, and I’m fixin’ to put my nugget pouch under there in case Santa’s got anything in his sleigh to leave me. Then I’m going to get ready for bed. I just wanted to check in and wish you and Ellen and Peggy a Merry Christmas. Is Peggy all ready for Santa? Over!"

"Oh Sam she’s about to drive us crazy. She’s been ready for Santa since December 1st."

"Well that’s how our little Sally was too! Over!"

"Say listen Sam, the weather report says there is a doozy of a storm that is going to hit about 2 to 3 in the morning. They are predicting high winds, and 36 to 40 inches of snow. You hunker down up there! Do you have plenty of wood to keep warm?"

Sam looked at the pile in the corner, five small pieces. He had forgot to chop and split logs that day with hunting rabbits and a tree. He lied,

"Oh yeah Billy I’m all set! I have plenty of wood. I’ll try and check in tomorrow."

"Great Sam! You have a Merry Christmas too, by the way, the funniest thing happened today a g…….." Billy's transmission cut out and the radio went dead.

"Billy, Billy, are you there? What the hell’s going on?"

The generator had stopped. When Sam went to check it, he found out why. The generator was out of gas and his spare gas tanks were bone dry too.

Hardly any food left, a big storm coming, not enough wood to even last through the night, and no way to get in touch with Billy. Maybe this was the beginning of the end. If it was, he still had one last tradition to perform before turning in for the night. It was the same thing he had done on every anniversary. He always sang "Through the Years" to Mary. Oh he was a lousy singer, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but it was the words that were important, and besides, he might sing off key, but he could hit every note on the harmonica with skilled perfection.

He bundled up and grabbed his harmonica and went out onto the porch swing. It was still clear out, no signs of a storm moving in, but then it had another seven hours or so to make it’s appearance. Sam gazed into the sky of a million billion stars and said, "Mary if you are out there somewhere, sweetheart this is for you too!" Sam started to sing his off key rendition of "Through the Years."

Click here if you have a Midi Sequencer Plug-in

I can’t remember when you weren’t there, when I didn’t care, for anyone but you.

I swear we’ve been through everything there is, can’t imagine anything we’ve missed, can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do.

Through the years you’ve never let me down, you’ve turned my life around, the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you. Through the years I’ve never been afraid, I’ve loved the life we’ve made and I’m so glad I stayed right here with you, through the years.

I can’t remember what I used to do, who I trusted who I listened to before.

I swear, you’ve taught be everything I know can’t imagine needing someone so, but through the years it seems to me I need you more and more

Through the years through all the good and bad I know how much we’ve had, I’ve always been so glad to be with you, through the years it’s better every day you’ve kissed my tears away, as long as it’s OK I’ll stay with you through the years.

Through the years when every thing went wrong, together we were strong, I know that I belong right here with you.

Through the years I never had a doubt we’d always work things out, I’ve learned what life’s about by loving you, through the years.

Through the years you never let me down, you’ve turned my life around, the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you. Through the years it’s better every day you’ve kissed my tears away, as long as it’s OK, I’ll stay with you through the years.

After singing to his Mary, Sam put the harmonica to his lips and played the same tune as he had never played it before. Even the Angels in heaven stopped to listen. The tears flowed down Sam’s weather worn cheeks as freely as the mountain waterfalls in the spring.

The stress of the years, the emotion of the moment, it had all become too much. Depression fell on Sam as hard as that pine tree that he had cut earlier in the day had fallen to the ground. October was too long to wait, he was going out of his mind right now. He couldn’t stand another day without knowing that Mary was OK and that she was waiting for him somewhere out there in the great beyond.

For five long years he had talked to her, and dreamed about her, but there was nothing, no sign, to let him know, that she knew, he still loved her. He needed to know that she knew, that he missed her and his broken heart ached with a pain that time wouldn’t heal. She needed to know that he would die a million deaths just to hold her in his arms just one last time.

Sam stood up and dropped his harmonica on the porch. He went into the cabin and directly to the drawer where he kept his old 38 revolver, he pushed the old tattered clothes aside and pulled other cloth items from the drawer, as he was about to toss the next item to the floor he saw the soft reflection off of the steely blue finish of the gun. He could barely see the outline of the weapon in the dimly lit cabin. A smell from heaven momentarily distracted him, it was Mary’s pillow case he was holding. Even after five years it still smelled of her. It was the reason he had packed the pillow case the day he prepared to leave Desert Rose; it was so he would never forget the smell of the most beautiful woman he ever knew.

He pressed his tear stained face into the softly scented pillow case and whispered, "God Mary I can’t live without you any more." As he reached for the gun something fell from the pillow case hitting his hand and landing on the gun. It startled him. As he looked towards the gun once again, he saw it. It was Mary’s rosary.

Instead of picking up the gun he reached into the drawer and picked up the crucifix attached to the rosary. As he touched the cross a flowing warmth filled his body. It was a sensation unlike anything he had ever felt before. A quiet calm fell upon him and an inner peace welled up inside of his soul. He looked towards the Christmas tree that was in the corner. He walked to the table where the candle was burning and picked it up. Kneeling down he placed the candle on the floor beside the stable where the baby Jesus was sleeping.

The irony of the moment struck him like lightning. In the stable was the baby Jesus, this was the beginning. In his hand he held the cross which bore the likeness of the crucified Christ, this was the end. "I am the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Isn’t that what was in the bible?"

As he knelt he looked outside at the clear winter night, the stars were particularly bright tonight, especially one. He held the rosary in his hand, and with his fingers on the crucifix he tried to remember the prayer you said when you started to pray the beads. It was called the Apostle’s Creed. He knew it once, a long time ago, when he was a little boy. How did it go? "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth ….." He didn’t know where the words came from but once he started they flowed from his lips as if he had said them everyday.

He continued to pray. Feeling each bead slip through his fingers brought contentment to his heart and a quiet peace to his soul that he had never felt before. He was touching the beads that Mary had touched so often, and saying the prayers that Mary had said so many times. He finished the rosary and arose from his knees. I was time to ready himself for bed.

Mary's rosary had stopped Sam from doing the unthinkable. When Mary's rosary fell across that gun it was as if something or someone was saying, "If you want the gun, you have to get through me first."

It was only 7:50 pm, but he was mentally and physically exhausted and emotionally he was a train wreck. He dug around in the drawer for an old bottle of sleeping pills. He rarely needed them to sleep, but he really wanted to put this night behind him quickly and get a good night's rest. One pill was all he ever needed, they were so strong that they usually knocked him out cold for at least ten hours. He popped it into his mouth and managed to choke it down without a drink.

He put the last five pieces of wood into the stove. He could only hope that it would get him through the night and the impending storm. Tomorrow, if he didn’t freeze to death in his sleep, he would probably have to use the Christmas Tree as firewood, that is if he could even get the thing to burn. If worst came to worst he could always chop up a chair, anything to keep things warm until Billy came looking for him on his snow mobile.

Sam headed for his bed when his buckskin nugget pouch that was hanging on the nail by the door caught his eye. "Well I prayed to God tonight, the first time in how many years? We won’t even bother trying to count that high! I might as well go for the whole banana and put my pouch under the tree for Santa, wouldn’t you say so Mary?"

After placing his nugget bag under the tree Sam turned off the old lantern and climbed into bed. He blew out the candle and pulled the blankets up over his head. His body and mind drained from his depressed state, Sam fell into a deep sleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

During the night Sam had a dream unlike he had ever had before. He had dreamed of Mary before but the dreams were always about memories of the good times they had together. In this dream Mary actually came to Sam with a message.

"Sam, I love you and I’ve always been with you sweetheart."

Sam tried to talk but he couldn’t. Mary was so, so beautiful, but more, she was an angelic presence. She was dressed all in white, and her garments glowed and shimmered. There was a bright white light that emanated from all around her body. She looked just as Sam remembered her but her skin was smooth and soft looking like a baby’s. Gone were the little wrinkles that come with advancing years.

"Sam your family needs you. Sally and Jessica and Frank want you with them. And Sally is going to need help when our new Grandson is born.

"What grandson?" Sam thought to himself.

"Sam! Johnny and I are fine and we are happy, but I worry about you. Sam, it won’t be long and we will be together again for all time, but until then you have to take care of our family. Quit being such an old fart and do what I’ve asked you to do."

Mary smiled and faded away just as she had come.


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The morning sun shining in Sam’s face woke him.

"Oh man, what a night! I’m not taking any more of those sleeping pills, those damn things must have gone bad from being so old." Suddenly it struck him as strange that the cabin was still relatively warm. He walked to the window to have a look. Perhaps the storm had passed them by again. "Wo Nellie, there must be at least three feet of snow out there if there’s an inch!"

But the sun was shining, so Sam convinced himself that the sun had probably helped heat up the cabin. Sam forced the door open as far as he could and stuck his shovel out to clear some snow away. "Yow! The sun might be out but it was still below freezing. Sam pulled the door shut and scampered over to the old stove to drive off the chill. He opened the door and stoked the coals, "There sure looks like there was more than five pieces of wood in there. Oh well!" Sam grabbed the kettle, filled it with water and put it on old faithful to warm up.

Looking over towards the tree he was shocked and somewhat bewildered by what he saw. There, laying beside his buckskin nugget pouch, was his harmonica. But hadn’t he left it on the front porch?

"Oh boy the tricks old age plays on the mind, not good, not good at all!"

Sam bent over to pick up his harmonica and nugget pouch to put it back on the nail by the door. But when he attempted to lift the pouch the weight of it pulled it from his grip.

"What the heck is that stuck on?" Sam said out loud as he lunged for the pouch a second time.

That’s when Sam realized that it wasn’t stuck, it was stuffed. Sam felt the weighty bag and said out loud, "Jesus Mary and Joseph, am I still dreaming? I better go back to bed and get up again. Sam poured the contents of the stuffed bag onto the table. "Nuggets, gold flippin' nuggets, a whole bag full of gold nuggets?"

Sam ran to the window. There must be reindeer hoof prints and sleigh tracks out there somewhere. But there was nothing. Sam was afraid to look back at the table for fear it was all an hallucination. Probably a residual side effect from taking sleeping pills that had expired about four years ago. He turned slowly and looked, NOPE, those were nuggets OK, a whole darn pile of them, yeah this was it, he had gone right out of his mind. This looks just about like all the nuggets that I’ve ever pulled out of this claim!

His promise to Sally came rushing back to him, "I’ll make you kids a deal. Sally, you know that buckskin pouch you bought me for my birthday a long time ago, the one you told me you got so I’d have something to keep my gold in? Well when I get that pouch filled up with gold, then I’ll come back for a visit."


Well he didn’t know if that dream with Mary in it was real, but his promise to Sally was, and that big bag of gold was, or at least he thought it was! Now, how could he get a hold of Billy? He checked the gas tank on the generator just in case. "FULL!" He had a strange feeling that's what he would find, full right to the very top.

"FULL, now you’re full of gas when last night there wasn’t a drop? Oh brother I better get off this mountain quick because I need serious professional help! Oh yeah! Warm cabin, walking harmonicas, bag full of gold, full gas tank. Help, lots and lots of mental help that’s what I need." Sam was talking to himself as he pushed his generator out on to the porch and pulled the starter rope. "You’re going to start the first time aren’t you? Yep!" as the engine roared., "I knew it! I’ve been poisoned. Those damn old sleeping pills probably perforated my brain or something worse."

Sam checked his watch, it was seven am, time for Billy to get up. He was having a crisis and Billy needed to get up. Sam grabbed the CB radio microphone.

"Billy, Billy, wake up, are you up, this is Sam, come back."

"Morning Sam and Merry Christmas!"

"Yeah Merry Christmas to you Billy, hey, I’m sorry to wake you up."

"You didn’t wake us up Sam! Peggy has had us up since 6:00 am."

"OK, great!" Sam said matter of factly, "Can you come and pick me up in about an hour on your snow mobile?"

"Well sure, is anything wrong?"

"No, No, nothing wrong I’m just going to visit my Sally, son-in-law and granddaughter for awhile."

"Well hey, that’s great. I’ll see you in about an hour."

"OK, I’ll be ready and thanks, and oh, tell Ellen and Peggy Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho."

"Will do Sam!"

Sam turned off the generator, and pulled his big red duffel bag off of the shelf. He took all the ornaments and "The Angel" off the tree and wrapped them inside what few wearable clean clothes he had left. Then he carefully wrapped each of the hand carved members of the nativity scene in a clean sock and stuffed everything in his bag. He lovingly took Mary’s pillow case and took the Rosary from off of the nail keg bed stand where he had laid it the night before. He put the rosary back in the pillow case where it belonged and gently folded the pillow case placing it in his duffel. He pulled on his overalls, and straightened up the old place. It was just about time to go so he put on his old heavy coat, and grabbed his harmonica and his buckskin bag. He looked in there just one last time to make sure it really was full of nuggets. "Yep, full to the top! I’m crazier than a out-house rat." He giggled to himself and shoved the old chin flute in one pocket and his bag full of gold in the other.

Sam went out on the porch and sat on the swing waiting to hear the hum of Billy’s snowmobile. He was whistling Jingle Bells and stopping every now and then to laugh and talk to himself out loud.

"Ha! Crazy, plum out of my mind, nuttier than a squirrel’s nest, …..dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh.." Sam could hear the snowmobile now and got up and walked off the porch. He was standing on one foot and then the other as he impatiently waited for Billy to thread the trees and zoom across the frozen stream. Billy appeared from between the thick pines throwing bursts of snow all the way. He slid to a stop about fifteen feet from Sam.

"Merry Christmas to ya’ Sam, your chariot awaits."

"Merry Christmas to you Billy, let’s get going I got a lot to do and we’re burning daylight!"

"Well then climb aboard, and hang on Sam!" Off they sped through the newly fallen snow white wintery fluff tossed high in the air in their wake.

When they arrived back at Billy’s General Store slash home, Ellen met them at the door with a cup of steaming hot cider.

"Come on now you two get in here before you catch your death of pneumonia."

"Thanks Ellen, but I don’t have a lot of time I got to get some things bought for my family and get back to Desert Rose. I’ve got a long way to hitch hike."

"Sam you’re not going to hitch hike all the way to Desert Rose, the plows have already been through but there still ain’t going to be nary a soul out on Christmas day."

"God will provide Ellen, you above all people should know that. OK Billy we have to talk business, I know you got all the nuggets you need…."

"No, Sam, that’s what I was trying to tell you on the CB last night and then your radio went dead. A customer came in here yesterday afternoon and bought every last nugget I had. Paid top dollar too! Didn’t even try to bargain. He said he was a collector. He gave me my asking price of $14 a gram! That sure made our Christmas!"

"Billy that’s great! I don’t suppose you need anymore."

"You bet Sam I’ll take all you got!"

Sam pulled the buckskin pouch from his coat and poured the contents on the glass case.

"WOW Sam those are some beauties you got there, what have you been doing hoarding them?"

"Billy, don’t ask, you wouldn’t believe me if I told ya’!"

"Well let’s weigh these little babies and see what we got. You got twelve ounces three grams Sam. Let’s see at the usual $8 a gram that’s about $3010."

"You got that much cash Billy?"

"Sam I told you that guy bought all the nuggets I had and he paid cash. Ellen’s been upset because she doesn’t like us having that much money in the house but the bank doesn’t open until tomorrow. I’ll be happy to get some of this cash out of here, it makes me a little nervous too."

Sam said, "Great! Are you open for an old coot that needs to do a little last minute Christmas shopping?"

"You bet Sam, just help yourself."

Sam hurriedly grabbed presents for Sally and Frank and little Jessica. Then he grabbed a new pair of overalls, some new underwear, socks, and red flannel shirt. He found a nice new red sweater and jacket, and a matching stocking cap. A pair of gloves and a brand new pair of black leather boots and he was all set.

"Billy while you figure this up, can I use one of your rooms to change into my news Christmas duds?"

Ellen chimed in, "Sam, you come with me upstairs, why don’t you take a shower and get yourself cleaned up and I’ll fix you a quick breakfast."

"As long as it’s quick Ellen, I got a ways to go. But that shower sounds good!"

"You go on Sam I’ll figure your bill, and get the finances taken care of." Billy said.

Sam showered and shampooed, man it felt good. This was the best he’d smelled in a long time, he thought to himself. He then momentarily wondered how bad he smelled before that shower. He dried off and ran a comb through his long hair and snowy white beard.

"Oh yes, new underwear and socks, ain’t nothing like new underwear and socks to make a man feel like celebrating."

He put on the new red flannel shirt and pulled on his new denim overalls, and slipped on his new boots. He washed and dried his old wire rim glasses and got them balanced in just the right place on his nose. He emerged from the bathroom to the smell of eggs and bacon, and the aroma of fresh coffee.

As he walked into the kitchen Ellen turned to put a glass of orange juice by his plate and exclaimed, "Why Sam Lewis, don’t you look grand! You’re by far the spiffiest mountain man I ever did see."

Sam smiled shyly and asked, "This breakfast for me?"

"Indeed it is!"

"Oh man does this smell good, I can’t even tell you when the last time was I had scrambled eggs and fresh coffee."

"I canned those strawberry preserves myself last fall." Ellen interrupted.

Sam wolfed down his breakfast. He was truly fascinated at how good real food tasted. "Oh Ellen that was delicious, I am stuffed. Let’s go downstairs and see how Billy’s coming along."

Sam patted Peggy’s head as he walked through the living room. She was sitting by the Christmas tree playing with a doll. "Merry Christmas sweetheart."

"Merry Christmas Mr. Lewis."

"Momma’s going to go downstairs with Sam, can you be a good girl and start tidying up so we can start getting ready for church in a little bit?"

"Yes momma."

Sam and Ellen came down the stairs into the General Store where Billy was straightening some merchandise on the shelves.

"Hey Sam, ain’t you the man! You look mighty handsome for some old hermit." They all laughed. "Your bill came to $379.32 So after subtracting that from your gold I still owe you $2,630.68. Let’s just make it an even $2,631."

"Yeah Billy but take out that $500 plus dollars I owe you on my account."

"What $500 dollars is that Sam."

"That money I owed you for all that stuff you let me take on credit."

"I don’t know what you’re talking about Sam, you paid that off a long time ago?"

"Oh really? And what were you accepting as payment, pine cones? Now I don’t know what’s going on here but I know I owe you folks some money and it’s time to pay the piper."

"Sam, I swear, your account is paid in full! I think you’ve been up in those mountains too long."

Sam had to agree about being up in the mountains too long, but he knew he had never paid off his bill! He couldn't have paid it off, he didn't have a cent to his name.

Not wishing to argue, he said, "Well Billy, if you don’t know how to keep books any better than that there’s nothing I can do. Besides I don’t have time to argue with you, I got to get my thumb out."

"Sam, Ellen had a great idea. I called a friend of mine that lives in Hawthorne, Jim Sabra, and he has family over in Nelson and said he’d be happy to drop you off at Sally and Frank’s home. I told him I’d drive you to his house. So we got to get going, because he wants to be on the road by 9:30."

"I hate to take you away from your family on Christmas Billy."

"Sam it’s not a problem, I’ll be back by 10:30 at the latest."

"Well, that would be great, I got the address of Sally and Frank’s new house in the pocket of my old coat." Sam grabbed his old coat and reached in the pocket for the crumpled letter. He felt the letter and his harmonica and retrieved them, transferring them to the pocket of his new red coat.

"Ellen could you do me a favor and take these old clothes and, well ah, ….."

"How about if I burn them Sam!?" Ellen interrupted.

"Well, yeah, that’s probably as good an idea as any, as long as you’re sure the EPA won’t give you a ticket. "

"Come on Sam we gotta’ go!" Billy said, as he handed Sam his empty buckskin bag and a stack of hundred dollar bills. Sam took the money and quickly counted out ten one hundred dollar bills.

He turned to Ellen and said, "Now I don’t want no argument about this!" he said, as he squeezed the money into Ellen’s hand, "It ain’t much considering all you folks have done for a lonely old mountain goat like me over the years, but you put this in Peggy’s college fund. NO! Not a word!" Ellen gave Sam a look of protestation but then grabbed Sam and gave him a hug and a kiss on his bearded cheek.

Sam turned to Billy, "Are we going to go or we going to stand around jawin’ all day? Besides I think I’m allergic to something in here my eyes are starting to water." Sam said, as he wiped tears away.

The trip to Hawthorne and on to Nelson and Desert Rose seemed like it took forever, but by 3:00 PM Jim Sabra had delivered Sam safely in front of Sally and Frank’s new home. Sam was amazed at the climate change that 5 ½ hours made. It was below freezing in Good Hope and in Desert Rose it was 57 and sunny. Much too warm for his new red heavy jacket. Sam thanked Jim for the ride and promised that they’d stay in touch and that he would take Jim out prospecting sometime. It’s something Jim had always said he wanted to try.

Sam waved as Jim drove down the street. Sam threw his red duffle over one shoulder and his new red jacket over the other. He approached the mammoth two story residence and knocked. A pretty little girl came to the door. She might have been 5 years older than the last time he had seen her but there was no mistaking the fact that it was his Grandaughter Jessica.

"Merry Christmas Jessica!" Sam said with a big smile.

"Mom, Dad, come quick there’s a man at the door that looks like Santa Claus!"

Just then a very pregnant Sally came around the corner from the living room as Frank ran down the stairs.

"Daddy!" Sally screamed as she rushed past Jessica and threw her arms around her father.

Frank got his hugs in too and said, "Welcome home Sam."

"Hold on, not so fast." Sam said, "I’ve just come for a little visit."

Sally looked at him sternly and said, "We’ll see!"

"Hey you guys! What’s going on?" said Jessica.

"Oh honey I’m sorry." said Sally, "This isn’t Santa Claus honey, this is your Grandpa! My daddy!"

"Grandpa!" Jessica screamed as he launched herself into Sam’s arms.

Sam picked her up and hugged her and kissed her beautiful little face. As he turned toward the street to hide his tears from Frank and Sally, he kept repeating to Jessica, "Your Grandpa sure has missed you sweet heart." Then something caught Sam’s eye. There sitting in the driveway, was a big white SUV, with a big puddle of water on the ground by the tires and a melting clump of snow lying on the ground as if it had fallen from the undercarriage. Where would snow come from around these parts, Sam was thinking.

"Daddy," Sally interrupted his thoughts, "You have to at least stay until the baby is born, it’s going to be a boy, your going to have a Grandson daddy, and we are going to name him Sam Nathaniel."

"What?" Sam said, as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

"Come on Sam get yourself in here, or are you going to stand in the doorway all day long, we have some heavy politics to talk about." Frank said.

"You still a bleeding heart liberal?" Sam jabbed,

"Sam you haven’t changed a bit!"

As Sam walked through the door, still carrying his grand daughter, he looked over his shoulder at the blue skies of the desert landscape. He raised his eyes towards a huge white cloud and whispered, "I’ve come home Mary!"

Remember dear friends, there may be gold in them there hills, but if you want to know what’s really precious, look no further than your loved ones. Gold is not the only thing that glitters! Those you love and those who love you, are the glow that warms your heart and nurtures your soul. Love is the food of life, without it, we perish.


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Sam, had indeed come home that Christmas day. Remember the stock that Sam had transferred into Frank and Sally's account after Mary's death? Well Frank had transferred it back out just about as fast.

Frank opened up a new brokerage account in Sally and Sam's name and had been doing some aggressive investing. Frank had taken Sam's life savings of a little over $300,000 and turned it into something a little shy of two million dollars.

Sam learned of this when he was presented his brokerage statement all Christmas wrapped. For at least the last two years of Sam's meager existence in the hills of Good Hope he had been a millionaire and didn't even know it.

Sam lived the rest of his days with his family and used his money to make other people's lives easier. He set up a trust for his two grand children, Jessica, and Sammy and little Peggy Beaumont. The Summer following his return home, saw Billy and Ellen being delivered a 4 wheel drive deluxe American made SUV. The following Christmas Santa brought the Beaumont's a new snow mobile. Sam also left a generous amount for the Beaumont family in his will.

About the only thing he bought for himself was a new pick up truck and a new metal detector. Oh he never gave up gold prospecting or going to Good Hope now and again; but he did it just as a part of his wonderful life, not just to exist.

He learned that living was much better for the soul than just existing. He saw to it over the next couple of years that he "got right" with the Big Guy upstairs.

Sam passed and went to be with Mary in the early Summer of 1999. Sally, Frank, and Jessica were sad, but they knew that Sam was with the only true love of his life, again, and forever.

It is said that even to this day, in the evening, when modern day prospectors sit around the camp fire in the darkness of the night, the spirit of Sam Nathaniel Lewis is nearby. Sometimes when there is a light breeze you can hear the melodic sounds of a harmonica being played somewhere way off in the distance.


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