Mind of Gold by M.S.Warrenby An Abundance of Good on 02/02/17
It's easy to get into the habit of blowing off the claims of someone who has had the term dementia pinned to his person. That's the tragic thing about the word. An old guy, perhaps funny and kind and even brilliant at times is always under suspicion because the health of his brain has been brought into question.
Even if the old guy with that nasty unwanted label is your own old guy, the eye roll or the lip pucker become unconscious ticks in response to just about any communication the poor guy might attempt. It's actually quite unfair as we all know that even if he is making sense ninety percent of the time, his reputation is based on the wilder ten percent. It's as if we are subconsciously reacting to a spectral of cloudy letters - d-i-m-e-n-t-i-a - floating along right under his eyes or above his head like an aura . Maybe if Salvador Dali had to paint "The Impersistence of Memory" the piece would render thick tarry clouds obscuring the head of his Gala in the way we see those thick tarry clouds along the halls of our favorite memory-care institutions.
I had been far along into this habit with my own muddled old guy dad by the time we began our Potomac River scenic driving tours last Fall. Dad had spent most of his career right there along the river at a site that he'd rather not have me mention to the "Interwebs." I grew up listening to his stories of how battle ship models could be tested right inside a thing that looked like an airplane hanger and that even waves could be simulated to check how a ship might perform in the open sea.
Of course, we wouldn't get much more than that usually, unless he had an especially colorful story about his hour and fifteen minute commute back home or the exotic spot he had discovered on his lunch hour.
The best exotic spots included Glen Echo (especially sprinkled with stories about the old pool), the C and O Canal Tow Path, and Great Falls Park so that, gradually, this little stretch of Maryland became a sort of mystical realm for me and my siblings, made all the more magical because we would enter it only once every few years when Dad would take one of the ten of us to his office. There was always a bit of a thrill when we pulled up to the saluting sailor, witnessed the exchange of familiar greetings, and caught the flash of a special little identification card.
"You know, Tessla was actually from outer space," he informed me that afternoon last fall while making a right from Goldsboro onto MacArthur Boulevard.
"Is that so," I said mechanically. "Hey, how do you like that book Rosie gave you last Christmas? It's all about him isn't it?"
"Oh it's very good," he answered.
Soon, we were passing the trophy homes along the East side of MacArthur. The trees were at peak color and the sun was sparkling to our west.
"When all of North America merges, they'll burn all the books and shut off the electricity so that we can't read."
"Is that...so," I again replied.
"It's all part of the plot. The Masonic plot. Just like the plot to ...
Now I was sad. This was the guy who helped me with my algebra homework and encouraged me to "think like an engineer." Indeed, this was the same guy who knew every alley and stoop of his own part of Brooklyn New York, who enjoyed calculus, studied fluid dynamics, and who could explain in his sleep where the diesel exhaust mast is on a nuclear submarine (the Soviet's best submarine, no doubt).
My dad was the dad who would fix a house's faulty toilet as naturally as I might boil a pot of water. He could prune a massive tree, build a set of bunk beds, or change the brakes on our fifteen passenger van.
"And just like the plot to bring Communists...."
Once we got past Old Angler's Inn and well beyond the first part of an especially green patch of wood, Dad suddenly pointed to the forest and said, "There was gold mining right there."
"Oh really. Dad," I said in my driver-weary-patronizing tone.
"Yeah. And it was active until the War."
That particular claim stuck on me like a piece of the tarry aura. What in the Sam Hill inspires him to say that?
"Yeah, they should have kept it operating. I bet there's a lot more gold in there."
I shook my head in an attempt to lose the words, "Come on Dad! Can't you say something true!" I veered my car right, just before the gates to Great Falls Park, and onto Falls Road. Now, we were slowly distancing ourselves from those mystical woods and heading back into the real world.
That gold mine nonsense stuck with me that night. It seemed so out of the blue. But what I had learned recently, however, is that if any claim seemed especially unfounded, it may actually have a grain of truth within in it, just like the time Dad claimed that Edgar Allen Poe explained the theory of relativity long before Einstein did. (Yeah, look it up.)
So, I sought out the gods-of-google and found that, yup, there was gold mining along the shores of the Potomac River just southeast of Great Falls Park.
Apparently, Union soldiers during the Civil War found traces of gold in the river while encamped in the area. Gold mines were built later, and, as sure as day, were operating until right before World War II. Remains of these mines could be found well into the 1980s.
Below: From a blog which says "See for yourself."
So, I saw for myself. I saw the gold mine and the gold in the mine: Mental meanderings can contain some of the best nuggets of seemingly useless information. Even now, as a middle aged woman who's wondering about her own mental meanderings, my Dad can still conjure magical forays into little known places like ghost pools at Glen Echo, long-dead mules along the tow path of the canal, and gold mines along MacArthur Boulevard.
And for me, this mind - Dad's mind - is a mine of gold.