Our family lives very close to the epicenter of the California Gold Rush. We happen to have moved here for the schools (and the abundant Chipotle locations), but a long time ago a bunch of people moved here for the gold. Ground zero for the gold frenzy was a little town called Coloma. All three of our boys got to go on fourth grade field trips to Coloma, to stay three days and two nights and learn all about the life of a gold miner.
One of the things the teachers ask the parents for, besides a ton of money for the trip, is a letter written to your fourth-grader as though they were an actual forty-niner in the gold fields.
For reasons unknown to me, my wife decided I should be the one to write those letters. Apparently, she doesn’t read this column.
Son Number Three just found the one I wrote for him last year, and I thought I’d share, as an example of how my wife is not paying attention.
August 16, 1849
Dearest Son Number Three,
Your ma and I hope this letter finds you alive and well in California. We sure hope you made it all the way out to the diggins in Coloma, and you’re not dead on the Missouri Trail somewhere.
I know the trip to the Mother Lode couldn’t have been easy for you, what with your wooden leg and all. Hopefully you still have it attached, and you didn’t run into any weirdo leg robbers, or God forbid, a pack of angry beavers. I know I taught you well with the shotgun, so hopefully you gave any highwaymen or uppity rodents a backside full of buckshot.
We miss you here on the farm in Indiana, especially now that your older brothers have up and left us as well. Son Number One ran off with a traveling circus act that came through Fort Wayne earlier this summer. He claims to be making decent money, but his official job title is Head Pooper-Scooper for the elephant show.
Son Number Two has gone off to run a barge company on one of the Great Lakes. The good Lord only knows what possessed him to become a sailor, but he seems to enjoy it. He brings iron ore from Michigan to Wisconsin and returns with tons of cheese. Go figure.
We had high hopes for all three of you, but so far we have one son who picks up giant piles of elephant dung and another who is a cheese boat captain. Hopefully you will make something of yourself out in Coloma and save the family name.
One piece of advice for you when it comes to gold diggin: Don’t handle any quicksilver. Stay away from it altogether. A lot of the uneducated prospectors out there will tell you it’s the best way to attract the gold dust and collect it, and it does work great for that, but they will all end up with mercury poisoning. As they get sicker they will make gurgling noises when they talk, they will shiver and shake, their pee will be a funny color, and eventually they will all go bat-guano crazy. Then they’ll die.
Ma says hello.
Best of luck. Try not to get shot by a claim jumper.
I have no idea why my wife puts me in charge of these things.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen
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