IMPORTED COINS         Written by Allan Holden  all rights reserved

    I was listening to the 'News from Lake Wobegon' segment during the Prairie Home Companion Show. Garrison Keiller is a great story teller. I listen to him every Saturday evening, even though I don't like his politics, and often he will go out of his way to mock churches, which is both sad and stupid.

         During the last edition, he talked about an elderly man who was out fishing with a much younger friend. He had fished this lake by himself for many years, but now his wife was afraid for him to be out in the boat alone.

         The younger man baited the older man's hook and got him started. As he sat in the boat and stared at his bobber, his mind raced back through decades of memories. All of his old fishing buddies were gone now. In fact, everything that he knew and loved about this life was dead or changed . . . it made him so sad and he felt like a stranger who didn't belong anywhere.

         I am beginning to feel like that myself, sometimes. Perhaps everyone who lives a decent life span goes through this. Even in the church where we attend, they rarely sing the old hymns that I have learned to love. That music has been replaced by new, more upbeat music . . . only to remind me that the world I have known is dying and one day someone else will be coming along to take my place. Then, one day, that someone will watch his world start to die as his replacement appears on the scene.

         That radio show got me thinking back about good friends who have been gone for many years, like my uncle, Amos Watson. I thought I would share a treasure mystery Uncle Amos solved.

          Back in the early 1980's, I met a wonderful, jolly couple named John and Helen Pellon. John had been wanting a metal detector for many years. In Curtis, Michigan, where they lived, they had a newsstand that occasionally carried some treasure magazines.

          John and Helen's business was called, "The Sweet Spot," which was a candy and ice-cream store. Curtis, Michigan, is in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, about 65 miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge in the Manistique Lake area, and a long way from Plainwell. Besides the little business, John was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Curtis.

         John was about to retire and had already found a buyer for his business. Also, the Presbyterian Church headquarters knew he was leaving the work in Curtis soon, so they asked him if he would fill in as a temporary pastor at the church in Plainwell. It was only until their new pastor would arrive, which would be a few more months. John agreed to take the temporary work.

         While thumbing through a treasure magazine, John spotted my ad. He felt like he was seeing a revelation from God . . . a sign from heaven!

        "Look at this dear, you will not believe this!"

John went on to tell his wife that there was a metal detector dealer in Plainwell.

         "That will be convenient, but what's not to believe?"

        John told her, "The name of the dealer is, Curtis Trailer Sales! How about that!"

       They made their plan, which was: just as soon as they got settled in Plainwell, they were going to buy two top-of- the-line detectors. After the summer was over, and their work with the local church was done, they had their hearts set on living out the remainder of their days beach combing Florida's sandy beaches.

       When I said "jolly," there simply is not a more perfect word in the English Language to describe these loving people. Both of them sparkled with God's love! If there was ever a more perfect couple to own a candy and ice cream store and a source of joy to children of all ages, it had to be this couple.

       At the time, the top of the White's line was the 6000 DI model and they purchased two of them. I went over all of the tuning procedures and explained ground balancing and the right and wrong way to use discrimination. I was very careful to teach them how to pinpoint and properly dig for their target. I felt like I gave them my best and didn't miss anything. Now all they needed was practice, I figured - - - I was wrong!

      Being in the RV business with my father was really a fun way to earn a living. Each spring the local Recreational Vehicle Dealer's Association chapter would get together for two Saturday night meetings at the Great Lakes Steak Company. Those meetings were for planning the Kalamazoo RV shows at the former West Main and Maple Hill Mall's.

        I was late as usual. I had to run across town to pick my father up, then we rode to the meeting together. A short-cut to my folk's house took me past the Otsego High School and the new Junior High School. You never hear the term 'Junior High' anymore, today everyone says "Middle School." Well, this middle school was brand new.

        This giant building was so new that you could smell the fresh paint as you drove by. You couldn't help but look as you went by because, since the beginning of time, nothing ever occupied this once-open meadow. I was scooting down the street heading west and, as I passed the west side of the new school, I spotted John and Helen's van. Sure enough, they were swinging their new detectors over the new sod.

        I wanted to stop and give them some ideas for hunting in the area, but I couldn't afford the time. I couldn't help but wonder why they couldn't use a little more imagination. Frankly, I'm really not a school yard hunter but, if I was, I would sure look for an old school.

       Another week passed and it was time for the final planning meeting. Once again, I was running late and once again, on a beautiful summer's Saturday evening, there was John and Helen detecting at the new school. Yes, it is the same story, I wanted to stop but didn't have the time.

       A week or two later, I was talking to an RV customer on the phone when John and Helen approached my desk. We exchanged smiles as John dropped a sandwich bag filled with coins in front of me. I continued my phone conversation as John walked over to the detector displays. With my free hand I managed to open the zip lock bag and peeked inside.

       My jaw dropped and my eyes popped! All the coins were from the 1800's! There were Shield nickels, Seated dimes, Seated quarters, Barber coins, Indian Head cents and even a couple Flying Eagle cents! It was amazing! As soon as I got off the phone, I dumped the bag of coins onto my desk and asked, "John, where did you find these?"

      John replied, "Al, do you know that new school in Otsego?"

       As a treasure hunter and bottle digger, some of my most valuable tools are my old plat maps. I know for certain that there was never a building on that spot. So, how did those coins show up there? Did someone bury a cache of coins here and did the landscapers unknowingly spread them around?

       I've told this story a hundred times and never found anyone who could explain the mystery. One day I was sharing this story with a customer, as my Uncle Amos listened in. Amos was at the store waiting for my father. They were planning a trip out west with my grandfather. That trip would launch another treasure story, but I'll save that one for another time.

      "Dad-burn, Expert! I can tell you where those coins came from!"

       All my detector ads at the time read, "Be trained by an expert," so Uncle Amos used to call me, 'Expert.' Uncle Amos was such a neat guy and he loved to stay busy. He was employed by Consumers Power Company and he took an early retirement, after having a heart attack.

       After retirement Uncle Amos worked almost full time as a volunteer electrician at the Allegan County Fair Grounds.

       At about the same time the new school was finished, the Allegan Fair Board had started some new fairgrounds development. There were several improvements, including a huge new show barn, harness track improvements and a new grandstand. All of this kept Uncle Amos very busy. One of the improvements was on the fairgrounds midway itself.

        There are three strips used for those "Step Right Up" game booths that are each about 75 yards long. It almost always rains a day or two during fair week, and the paths in front of the games would become a muddy mess! This summer they are going to do something about that problem. The solution would be asphalt. The problem is, you cannot lay asphalt over top soil, or it will break up in no time. Any top soil needed to be dug up and then stabilizer gravel was needed. The gravel was compacted firmly in its place, forming a solid foundation for the new black-top. The problem was disposing all of this top soil.

        Located in the heart of the Kalamazoo River basin, this beautiful, rich black soil is too good to just use for fill. One of the fair volunteers was on the Otsego school board, it may have been Amos--- I don't recall. But it was suggested that the dump truck loads of soil be spread around the new school, just a few miles away in Otsego.

        Well, that explained it; the coins were imported from a one hundred sixty-year-old fair ground. By the time the dirt was spread out and seeded, there were actually no deep areas. The first chance I had to hunt there, I didn't get even one hit! Those greenhorns had cleaned it out! I feel like it was God's will that John and Helen should be the ones to have had all that fun!

       Each year, John would send out a newsletter in place of a Christmas card and it was fun keeping up with them. Often they spoke of their metal detecting exploits. The newsletter would always include some encouraging Christmas Bible teaching and, as they received prayer requests from their former congregation, they would pass them along.

       Eventually, Helen started doing the newsletter because John's health would not permit him to do it. Then the next year, we learned of John's passing. Within another two years, the letters stopped coming.

       I cannot remember if I ever told them where all those wonderful old coins came from. Well, if I didn't, I am sure God did --- and if not, someday I will.

In memory of Uncle Amos Watson, Rev.John and Helen Pellon --- each one a precious treasure.