We all dig for gold you know. It’s how we survive. It’s how everyone’s always survived. There’s magic in the rocks. That’s what they said and that’s why we did it. You’re little now but you’ll see. Even women, you’ll grow into one soon enough, you also look for it. You search for it. You dig up the ground to find it. It’s hope, that’s what you’re looking for. Like looking for water in the rocks. Without it you die. Maybe you look for it and it’s in a boy. But maybe it isn’t. But you keep digging anyhow.
As a boy I’d hear the preachers down by the river. I’d hear them with their white outfits and their baptisms and their singing. They make a big noise, all that yelling and chanting for Jesus to come down. They’re just the same as the rest. Looking for gold in the sky that’s all.
My life was the same as anybody else’s. Always dirt under my fingernails, that is what you get when you’re born on a farm. They raised me into a farmer. Not many chances to do anything else. My Pa was one and his Pa before him. Although my Granpa died very young. Yellow fever or malaria or the flu or the pox. It’s a hard life if you’re a farmer. But it was no life for me.
I wanted to go out and find something more. I hated settling. I was a gold digger too you see. I just looked for it in the army. Instead of a pick and shovel, they shipped us off with a gun and a billycan. Not that helpful when you’re looking for gold. Plenty good if you’re looking for a fight.
In the army we spent hours in the mud and cold. When it gets really cold, the mud freezes over and you worry about breaking your ankle. Overseas in that mud and cold I found some other gold diggers. These boys, they did it with their inventions. With ideas and drawings and such things. One boy invented a train signal that helped trains know when to change tracks. You get that right, it’ll rain gold. Big train companies pay you a year’s wages for something like that.
Another soldier, a crazy boy, said that a girl was his gold. They’d get married and have children and all would be ok in the world. Didn’t make sense to me at the time. Seemed cowardly. Settling, you know, instead of chasing his fortunes. It seemed to me he would give it all away for a girl and a child before he had even done anything. I told them all: “He’ll end up a farmer, just you wait.”
You don’t find gold, so you farm dirt. Sort of a trade-off. A trade-off means instead of one thing you get something else. ‘Swings and roundabouts’ the Tommy would say. So instead of a piece of fudge, you might get a stick of toffee. Not bad you might think. But who likes toffee? Just settling. Now that I think of it, the Brits got it wrong. Not really swings and roundabouts. More like swings and a broken cricket bat. You see what I mean?
Once we were fighting Jerry – they called the Germans Jerries or sometimes just Jerry. Really lousy boys. Real pieces of work. Half men and half beasts mostly. As if they were possessed by ghouls. So there I was in a fight with Jerry. And I was crawling around the mud looking for bullets. Just clawing at the ground. Boys had been there not long before so I knew there had to be ammo. Boxes of the stuff. I just had to find it. Bullets were gold. Especially if you’re in a firefight.
When you know something’s there, you got to trust that it is. When you don’t believe it’s there, you’ll give up. I knew it was there. I trusted my gut. But there’s pressure you know. The feeling that maybe it’s not there. And that makes you doubt. It makes you doubt everything. But with Jerry so close by, you better keep digging around. No chance to do anything else.
So while I was searching for bullets in the mud, I found all manner of thing in those trenches. You don’t want to think about it too much, because that’ll divert your attention. And there’s no point in that. But then the strangest thing. Bullets start whizzing by your ears. So the things you are looking for are also the things that are trying to finish you off. Gold that needs to be dug out and flying gold that is trying to kill you. But you don’t have time to think about that. Because that won’t help. So you keep searching.
And then just as you lose hope you feel something sharp and square and familiar. You don’t want to get your hopes up, but you know this is good. And so you reach with both hands under the dark water and you take the battered case out of the sucking mud. And you wipe the box down, click the latch and the top comes off. And inside you find neat little rows of gold. And you know that the bullets will help you kill Jerry so that you can survive another day.
For you, my darlin, in this life there are not many options. You either work for someone or you search for gold. And you better find yellow in the ground before you get yellow in your teeth. That’s too hard for any person to bear. Not finding anything and just settling. Regret and things like that.
You know I say all these things, me a tough old boy and all that, but I know when I met your Ma that was the only time things were clear, for a different reason. Remember what the crazy boy soldier said about his girl? She was his gold? When I met your Ma I understood what he meant. That crazy boy with all his settling was right all along. He knew there was gold shining in people. How you can meet one person and it all makes sense, like a ray of sun shining on green grass through a rain storm. That’s what it was like for me and your Ma. And also when you were born. Like rays of sunshine tearing holes through stormy black clouds.
And for the first time you don’t worry too much about surviving because all of a sudden you’re wide awake and you got to get busy living.