Episode 15 – Hi Ho Silver
I was sitting alone at the breakfast table and looking out on a wet and foggy day in late May. I thought “Well, at least it’s not raining.” The mechanical doorbell jerked me out of my stupor. I knew who it was. It was the joyous crank of our friend Jack, also known to me and my wife as Dr. Weirdo, sometime companion, and definite benefactor. I opened the door and in he walked in with his arms full of coffee cups, breakfast donuts and fritters. Jack headed straight to the table. I called downstairs to my lovely wife Rose. She responded, “Give Jack a hug. I’ll be right up.” The look Jack gave me meant “No thanks.”
Soon the three of us were smiling and catching up on events and the possibilities of a summer trip or two to somewhere exotic like Ocean Shores or Lynnwood. Although we were having fun, we knew there was intrigue in the late spring air.
Jack was having a great time with us. I think we are his only REAL friends, no matter what his old style society and snubby pals might think. We can seek the twinkle in his eye . . . and the slight bit of a smile when he relaxes. There was a little bit of a pause and Rose and I knew immediately “something wicked this way comes” was about to be offered.
Finally after a few more sips of coffee, Jack spoke, “Rose, it’s early, but I always enjoy seeing you wearing jewelry. I love those Wizard of Oz earrings you used to wear, Rose nodded casually, but I knew it was anything but. I had no recollection of Rose ever mentioning the Oz earrings. She hadn’t worn them since her pierced ears healed up and closed.
Jack continued on. “I’ve got a friend . . . ” About fifteen minutes later Jack was gone and Rose, with a scowl on her beautiful face said, “My Oz earrings? How would he know about my Oz earrings?” The earrings are about an inch square and contain a cell image in blue and white from the classic film of 1939. I had nothing to contribute.
After Rose settled down we began sorting through the comments, hints, and bottom line of Jack’s #1 item on his wish list. A society friend (meaning rich) had been offered an interesting archaeological prize. The friend thought of himself as a true son of a Viking past. His nickname was Gunnar, which means warrior in Norse or Danish. An old house near Highway 16, the freeway exit/entrance and Nalley Valley had burned down, and in the clean up, an old shawl was discovered. Wrapped in the shawl were half a dozen silver Viking wrist and arm rings.
Jack hadn’t mentioned much beyond one or two sentences. As usual, Rose and I would investigate and zero in on the possibilities and results. As I sipped my coffee an image of a Viking arm ring flashed in my mind. I went down to my office and looked at the pile of incoming mail. Four inches down I found the May/June 2022 issue of Archaeology. On page 22 I found the article I was looking for: “Secrets of Scotland’s Viking Age Hoard.” There was a photograph of more than twenty flattened arm and wrist rings. Rose and I had never heard of Norse arm and wrist rings, but the article and the offer Jack’s friend made seemed a little too pat. I wondered “Can friends be your alloy.” I never said it out loud, however. Puns are not always welcome. I decided to steel away.
Rose did some searches in online newspapers and found a commentary on a found Viking treasure horde from 1400 years ago. The news item was repeated in several Facebook community and business pages from Tacoma to Seattle. The stories never claimed the horde was buried 1400 years ago, but had been hidden some time ago approximately two feet down. Since the old shawl hadn’t completely deteriorated, estimates were that the burial was probably during or after World War II, suggesting that the horde might have been brought back by soldiers returning home with booty from Europe.
I grew up fairly near to the where the horde was located. “Rose,” I said, “Let’s go for a walk. I attended Stanley Elementary from Kindergarten through the fourth grade. The old reservoir is still beautifully green, but not as tall as I recall it being. My walk from home was nine to ten blocks away from Stanley. It all depended which route I took. We parked across the street from the reservoir on Wilkeson and did a quick walk through the Buffalo Soldiers Museum. They are only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to four. This was a Wednesday. There is always something new to discover each time I stop by. I asked about the horde but only drew a blank stare.
We continued our walk. I showed Rose where my favorite store was for purchasing penny candy. I showed her where my friend Duane lived. We used to raid his Italian plum trees in the back yard as often as we could. They were excellent. I showed her where my friend Ronald lived. His parents were fairly well-off for the neighborhood. He had an electric xylophone that I played some times. And finally I showed her where I would go for Cub Scout meetings. We used to build things in the backyard and even put on little skits at Stanley. It was fun and games. We built a cardboard cutout of a train once and another time we cutout a pirate ship. I played the cook on the pirate ship, but not like Long John Silver. I kept both feet on the ground and the deck. From there we visited what I called a swamp. The reality was that it was probably just a little wetland, but my buddies and I would collect polliwogs.
The block I grew up on had been torn up when the freeway over Nalley Valley was constructed. The short blocks weren’t a problem for Rose and me; we just relaxed and walked around. As we approached the burned out house we realized that most of the house was still standing. There was quite a bit of smoke damage, but on the whole it was repairable. The garage on the other hand was a complete loss. We got a little closer and saw someone putting trash and fire damaged boards in the bed of an old Chevy pick-up. The man, about my age turned around and looked at me. I blinked twice and said, “Gunner?” His jaw dropped . . . not completely on the ground, but it left an open mouth that you could have thrown a large meatball into. We were old friends and had attended Stanley Elementary.
The three of us sat on the porch stairs and talked for hours. His real name is Gunnar, which means “war general,” in Danish. In grade school we all just called him Gunner. He was a good shooter of marbles and his .22 one shot rifle. He and his towheaded brother, Villum, were both in Cub Scouts with me. They later quit high school and joined the Marine Corps. Both suffered post traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam that had never healed, body or mind, since coming back. The kid brother had fallen asleep while smoking pot in the garage . . . and died there. Gunner had hired a small contractor to build a basic garage. The contractor had found the horde that Gunnar told the newspapers about. My memory was stirred, I recalled that their father had a small forge and the boys could build a lot of things with their forge, like a long metal handle our fellow Cub Scouts could hold onto as we walked along pretending we were driving a train or sailing a ship.
Gunner did not approach anyone about the silver collection. He was contacted by someone from the Seattle area. Villum and Gunner had been given flattened Viking arm and wrist rings when their great-grandfather had visited Tacoma in 1952. The boys a few years later collected silver spoons and fired up their dad’s forge and made their own Viking body jewelry.
Rose and I took Gunner out to lunch. When we were almost finished, Gunner pulled a small leather bag out of this jacket and spread four different arm rings on the table along with a silver finger ring. Rose said, “Oh, my those are beautiful. Gunner said, “Can you tell the difference between the two that were centuries old from Denmark and the two Villum and I created? Rose pushed two together and said, “Those are the old ones, and the other two are the ones you created.” Gunner looked stunned, “How did you know?” Rose said, “They look like they were made with love. The same for the ring.” Gunner looked away and excused himself and walked to the restroom. When Gunner returned to our table He seemed pleased. We easily renewed our friendship. The fire insurance had helped with immediate needs and he seemed happy.
A week later we sealed a deal. Sometimes people like to collect and enjoy, not necessarily for monetary value or to share beauty, but just because it’s theirs to see and touch and dream about. Jack’s friend (Mr X) was offered a deal he couldn’t turn down. Mr. X purchased a private collection only he knew about. He paid for an affordable donation to help two American heros. Gunner used the money well and bought a headstone in honor of his brother. For himself he bought garbage bags and cases and cases of bottled water. He now visits the homeless encampments, which quite often have veterans in their ranks. He talks to fellow vets and gives them garbage bags, bottled water, and encouragement. Mr. X had a horde of a real Viking treasure with four pieces dating back 1400 years from Europe as well as twenty pieces forged by pure Norsemen a little more recently.
Vikings wore rings on their fingers as well as bulkier rings on their arms and wrists. These rings showed off their status and played a significant role in every day life of the typical Viking, but the silver arm and wrist rings collection that was passed on to him is well beyond simple forge work. It was created by mighty Viking soldiers who fought and donated their lives for their country . . . America.
Jack stopped by about two weeks later. We were still in bed when we heard the doorbell grind. By the time I got out of bed and up the stairs Jack was gone. Sitting on the door mat was a small box with a bow on it. The card simply said, “For Rose.” Inside the box was the silver ring Rose had touched. On the back of the card Gunner had written, “I created the ring when I came back from Nam. It was for my wife. She passed away ten years ago. Thanks to both of you, I’m alive, again.”
c. 2022 Don and Peg Doman