We weren’t supposed to ride our bikes out to the reservoir. Certainly, we weren’t supposed to play on its rocky shore, but it was 1977 or 78 and we were innocent – the world was innocent – or at least, it seemed that way.
And so we rode our bikes along the frontage rode of the highway, mine still bearing the red, white and blue streamers from the 4th of July bike parade, and we parked them on reasonably level ground. Then we took old beach towels, purloined snacks, and cans of soda from our baskets and set up a sort of picnic area, before we went close to the water.
We were imaginative seven- and eight- year olds. Jeff decided that the big chunks of dried mud from where the water had receded over the summer were actually fossilized dinosaur turds. “Boys are so gross,” Monica and I said to each other behind his back. But out loud we asked, “What kind of dinosaur?”
“It’s from the Megapod,” Jeff insisted. “It’s Megapodtastic!”
“More like mega-disgusting,” I said. But it was Georgetown, Colorado. We’d all been to the natural history museum in Denver on school trips. We knew that dinosaurs had lived here once, just like we were certain the cannibalistic Goat-Man still haunted the woods outside town. It could have been ancient dino-dung, or at least, our child-brains didn’t immediately reject the idea.
We continued to enjoy the afternoon. A lonely kayaker appeared on the far side of the reservoir at one point. We hadn’t seen him arrive, and we never saw him leave, he just ghosted across our field of vision the same way a shark will sometimes swim near you without actually bothering you. You don’t see it, but you know you’re not alone.
“Maybe he’s searching for dinosaur bones,” I suggested, mostly kidding.
“Maybe he’s fishing for the lake monster,” Jeff responded. “Hey, is it true you and Gil are going together?”
Gil was the older man in my life. A fourth-grader, to my second, and he’d asked me to go with him after the mandatory school square dance recital. Of course, in elementary school, going together didn’t mean much. We never touched, except in dance class, we never spent much time together. I think we sort of sat near each other at lunch. Whatever.
“Here,” Jeff opened a can of Mr. Pibb and handed it to me. It was still slightly cool. “See, it didn’t even explode. Told ya.”
I took a sip, just as Monica, who’d taken her shoes off and was dancing in and out of the water – even in the hottest part of summer, that reservoir was cold – shouted for us to join her. “Guys! Come here!! Look what I found!”
I took my soda with me as Jeff and I went to join her, looking down into the water, where she was pointing at gold sparkles on the rocks.
“What the-what the hey?” Jeff squatted down and pulled out a handful of the rocks. “It’s gold!” He said. “We’re gonna be rich!”
We immediately gathered as many of the glittery-gold rocks as our young hands could carry, stuffing our pockets and the baskets of our bikes. We ended up sharing my Mr. Pibb – all three of this – as we stared at our collection.
“Now what?” Monica asked.
“We go to the rock shop, and have Sidney tell us how much it’s worth. He sells gold nuggets. I bet he buys them, too,” Jeff said.
The ride back to town was longer and slower with our collection of rocks, but we didn’t mind. Jeff said he would use the money to hire a running coach – his older brother was a track star, and he wanted to be even better. Monica said she wanted the Barbie dreamhouse she’d been wishing for. Me? I didn’t know what to say. Admitting that all I wanted was books and games seemed wrong somehow.
But when we got to the rock shop, Sidney had bad news for us. Oh, he made a show of looking at each rock very carefully, but then he sat us at the table in the middle of his store, the one where the rock polisher was usually grumbling and burbling. “Bad news, kids. What you have isn’t gold. It’s mica?”
“Mica?” I asked.
“Some people call it ‘Fool’s Gold.’
“So, it’s not worth anything?” I asked. Well, one of us had to get all the information.
“‘Fraid not,” Sidney said. “But don’t feel bad. I have grown-ups bring this stuff in all the time. Why don’t you each choose a polished rock before you go, to remind you to keep exploring.”
We were disappointed, of course. I mean, we’d been millionaires for a whole hour and suddenly we were just normal kids again. Still, a free polished rock could not be turned down. “Thanks Sid,” Jeff said. “Thank you,” Monica added. “Thank you, Sidney,” I wrapped up.
We left his store with mostly empty pockets, and stood on the sidewalk, where our bikes were waiting, and the light was waning. “It’s getting late,” Monica said. “I should go.”
“Yeah, me, too,” I said. “Mom might let me put price-tags on stuff for extra money. You guys want to do something tomorrow?”
“We could go to the little park,” Jeff said. “I heard all the levels – ” He meant terraces but hadn’t yet learned that word – “are there to hide the fact that it’s an Indian burial ground.”
“Sure,” I said. “Maybe we’ll meet a ghost.”
Monica didn’t look thrilled by our idea. “I think I have to do stuff at home tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll let you know.”
But we knew she wouldn’t.
The three of us went in different directions. Jeff went down the dirt road that led to the neighborhood tucked into the edge of the woods. I’d ridden my bike down that road after twilight once and had been convinced the Headless Horseman was chasing me the whole way. Never mind that the Headless Horseman lived in New York, and not Colorado.
Monica went up the hill. Her family lived in a big old house, but it was creaky and leaning in places. I think the idea of hunting for ghosts didn’t appeal to her, because she lived with so many. Visits to her house were hard because all they had to play with were half-complete board games, none of which were meant for only two people.
And I went back down the block, around the main square, and across the street to the building where my mother owned a store, and we lived in the apartment above it, but I knew better than to bring my bike in through the front. I locked it under the back stars behind the building, climbed up to the back entrance of our apartment, and walked through it, down the front stairs, and into the store.
Mom was finishing with a customer, but when they’d gone, she smiled at me. “You look tired and dirty,” she said. “What have you been up to today.”
“Out with Jeff and Monica,” I said. “We were seriously wandering and talking about stuff.”
Mom smiled. If she knew where our wanderings had taken us, she would not have been so pleasant.
“Go upstairs and clean up,” she said. “We’re driving to Idaho Springs tonight.”
“Idaho Springs? Why?”
“Because Floyd has the projector fixed and is doing the first weekend of Mad Movie Mayhem.”
“And we’re going? Really?”
“We’re going,” Mom said. “Really.”
I didn’t answer her. I just turned around and ran back upstairs to change. My dog greeted me at the door, and I brought her into my room with me. “Sorry we didn’t spend much time together today,” I told her as I ran my fingers through her curly white fur. The little park was within walking distance and had soft grass that was perfect for poodle paws. “But tomorrow is another day, and with any luck, you’ll get to come out with me then.”