Kid Joey has more grand adventures than any eight-year-old I know. And I swear he has special powers.
Nana Rose had a house right on Knight Island on the Sassafras River in Maryland. Kid Joey loved going exploring in the trees and down the backside of the yard that ended up on a sandy beach in a cove where Nana Rose used to picnic with Pappap when they were young, long before Nana Terri was even born.
Today, Kid Joey rooted through the trees, looking for treasure. You never knew what you might find - it was called Knight Island, after all. Perhaps a Knight buried gold or silver coins around here somewhere.
Kato the wonder mutt forged ahead of Kid Joey, sniffing out worms and bugs and pouncing on them for fun, catching them and tossing them up in the air and running to the next tree or shrub and either pawing at the detritus beneath it or lifting his leg to water it - whichever suited his doggy fancy.
Kid Joey had his backpack loaded with survival necessities: a water bottle in one mesh pocket, a Capri Sun in the other, a cheese sandwich in the front zipper where it was least likely to get squashed by accident; though he liked to squish them on purpose to make the bread flatter and chewier. But that was for him to decide and it was time for adventure, now, not lunch.
He crept along then, in the deep woods, Kato beside him, protective now that they were out of sight of Nana Rose's kitchen window. He was getting to be a big boy now, so as long as he stayed away from the cliff and the road, he was good to go.
Oh, and he'd better come running in a hurry if Nana Rose called him or his butt would be playing inside all the next day - Nana Rose's revenge for scaring her half to death.
He wondered about that sometimes, if it was really possible to scare someone to death.
He supposed so, if something scared your heart so bad it stopped. But…nah. You would faint and start breathing again. Sort of like if you held your breath too long.
As he placed his hand on his heart and stood still and quiet making sure it was beating in there, Kid Joey's eyes lighted on a particular tree trunk.
There was something carved in it.
He approached slowly, unzipping his knapsack and withdrawing a magnifying glass and his little notebook. Clues. Like on "Blues Clues." He wondered if the symbol meant something on a treasure map or something.
He stepped in close. It was letters: RM & TT
In a heart. Mushy stuff. He wondered if his grandmother knew who RM and TT were. He wrote the letters down in his notebook to make sure he didn't get them confused or anything.
Kato pounced, just then, and almost made him drop his notebook. "Whassup, boy?" Kid Joey's soft voice asked his loyal, furry friend. He watched as the dog snuffled and sniffed around a big gnarled root of the tree, pawed at the dried leaves and dirt that had been trapped beneath it, trying to root out his bug or worm or whatever.
"Can'tcha get it? Did it get by ya?" Kid Joey said as he dropped to his knees then sat back on his haunches looking as much like a dog as Kato ever did.
After a few moments he leaned forward so he was on his hands and knees as the dog continued to claw at the underside of the root. He lowered his cheek to the ground, trying to see up underneath the gnarly twist of root, when something hit his nose, and bounced off - and rolled. And it wasn't earthen because it had made a distinctively metallic clink.
He pushed up to his knees and looked about him, his eyes darting every-which-way. They lighted on movement coming toward his left toes, poised on the ground, balancing his weight that was mostly on his knees.
He pushed off with that foot and turned himself in the direction of the movement, and leaned down, looking closely to the ground. He didn't see it right away, it was a little bit muddy. He brushed his hand over the debris-covered forest floor, and found it.
A moment later he inspected the circular object in his hand.
"A ring! A gold ring! Wow!"
He rubbed it on his shorts all the way around and shined it up. It was very sparkly once he'd rubbed off the mud. He held his magnifying glass over it, and saw a design etched into the gold, like a string of leaves. And inside there were letters: RMT & TLT Forever
Hmmm. He looked up at the letters on the tree: RM & TT, then back at the letters inside the ring: RMT & TLT
He wrote everything in his little notebook then packed it all into his backpack (the ring was way huge big for even his middle finger or his thumb).
"Let's go, Kato! Thanks for finding the hidden treasure!" He called to his waggley-tailed buddy.
With his treasure tucked safely into the zipper compartment of his backpack, he took off to find a picnic spot for he and Kato.
"I even remembered to bring you something, and I'm glad I did because you were a good boy!" Kid Joey said, dropping to his haunches then sitting back on his butt beneath a tree that looked out over the Sassafras. Out came the cheese sandwich, the Capris Sun, and his surprise for Kato that was a rawhide chip. It would keep his pal busy for a while, and give him a chance to look over his notes. He might even draw a map to the tree - a treasure map! Yeah! That way when he asked Nana Rose who the initials might belong to, he could tell her just where the tree was, he thought, munching happily on his sandwich.
Kato let his buddy walk away from him toward that tree where the bug had been and where Kid Joey had gotten so excited. He didn't seem to be walking any farther away, so Kato continued grinding the rawhide between his powerful canine molars.
In the meantime Kid Joey drew a line representing the path from the house to the heart tree, and drew a few memorable trees in between to mark the way, and included the holly tree at the edge of the woods, and the bird feeders at the house end of the path. He also drew in a tree that had a huge squirrels' nest near the top, that he had noticed but no one else would unless they lay on the ground and stare up through the branches as he had.
By the time Kid Joey had finished his treasure tree map, Kato had polished off his rawhide treat, and joined the boy for the trip home.
Kid Joey and Kato barreled into the kitchen like a couple of buffalo, and the boy found Nana Rose drawing a sheet of peanut butter cookies out of the oven.
"Well, blow me down, here comes Joey, just in time for cookies!"
"Nana Rose! I found a treasure! Come see!!" Joey said, and Nana Rose knew it had to be something very special in order for Joey to bypass cookies, especially peanut butter cookies, in lieu of his treasure.
"First, could you look at this and tell me something?" He handed over his notebook after dropping his backpack on the stool at the kitchen island and rifling through it for the little book. "Do you know who RM and TT are?"
Nana Rose smiled, nodding immediately. "Yes I do. Is the information worth a hug, Kid Joey?"
He nodded, threw his arms up and hugged his grandmother's neck. After that he plopped himself on the stool and swiped a cookie off the cooling rack that was well within his reach.
Nana Rose poured him a mug of milk. That's why he liked visiting Nana Rose. She didn't mess around with fancy glasses that were hard for little hands to hold and cracked if they happened to bump the edge of the sink or something. She always used cool mugs that had Snoopy or cars, or his name on them. She even had some that had snowmen on them for cocoa at Christmas when she read to Rosie and him about the Grinch or that long poem, The Night Before Christmas. But he liked using mugs for everything - milk, juice, water, even cereal and ice-cream! That Nana Rose was smart!
"So who are they?" Joey asked, swigging his milk, not realizing how thirsty he'd been. Mapping treasure woods was hard work!
"Well, my maiden name, that's a lady's last name before she gets married, was Mennen.
Nana Rose smiled. "Sweetie, I was married for a lotta years when I finally got to get called Nana."
Joey's eyes twinkled. "Rose Mennen - RM. And TT was Pappap?"
Nana Rose nodded, smiling, glancing at the reproduction of the carving her grandson had carefully drawn in his cute little book. "That's him. Titus Tuttle."
"Titus?" Joey scrunched his nose at the seemingly silly name.
"I believe he was a Roman emperor - that's like a king."
"Pappap was a Roman…"
"No, no, not Pappap. That's where the name came from is all," Nana Rose laughed and gave her grandson another cookie. Then she began putting the rest of the cooled cookies into her big chicken cookie jar. Joey liked the big chicken - the bottom, the jar part was the basket the chicken roosted upon - the chicken was the lid. It was really cool, and it held a lot of cookies. Nana had just filled it up, so there would be cookies for the whole rest of the five days he would be here. Wahoo!
"Oh! The treasure!!" Joey rang out, and dropped from the stool, grabbing his backpack and unzipping the smallest up-front compartment. Out came the ring, and he handed it up to his grandmother.
He'd never seen Nana Rose struck speechless before. She always had something funny or smarty-pants to say. But not now. She just sat down on the stool nearest to her and stared at the ring in the palm of her hand. And she looked like she might cry. This alarmed Kid Joey, and he put his hand on her arm.
"It's okay, Nana Rose, I think somebody lost it a long time ago. I can put it back, I guess," he said, fervently hoping she wouldn't want him to do that. But she was shaking her head.
"Sweetie, where did you find this ring? I thought it was lost forever."
"Well, it was actually Kato who found it." The goofy Blue Tick Hound's ears perked at his name.
"Kato? How did he manage to find this beautiful ring out in the woods?"
"He was chasing some kind of bug or something, and it ran under a tree root and Kato was trying to dig it out. Instead of the bug he dug out the ring."
"Oh my goodness!" Nana Rose whispered. "Well, Kato, here you go, boy!" She said, lifting the lid off the big chicken and taking out a cookie for Kato. "Who's a good boy?" She said, getting Kato all riled up, and then she made him sit before she would hand the cookie to him. Good deed or not, manners were manners, and Nana Rose insisted upon only tame heathens in her house. Kato took the cookie like a gentleman, and then hurried to the back porch to eat it in privacy. Nana Rose smiled after him.
"Nana, there are different initials inside the ring than on the tree, but some of the letters are the same."
"Do you know what astute means?"
Joey shook his head no.
"It means that you notice things that other people might not. That you catch details," Nana Rose explained. "It was astute of you to notice that many of the letters inside the ring are the same as those that are carved into the tree." She took a pen from the kitchen drawer, and pulled Joey's little book across the table. She wrote out the names under the tree heart initials, then she wrote down the initials from inside the ring:
RMT & TLT = Rose Mennen Tuttle and Titus LeRoy Tuttle.
"The ring belonged to your grandfather. When we first got married, his ring was very loose. He was to take it to have it made a little smaller the day after our picnic, and I suggested he leave it in the house, but he insisted on wearing it anyway, saying that he would be very careful."
"But he lost it?"
Nana Rose nodded. "Yes he did. When we got home later that night it was missing from his finger. He went right back out there to that tree we sat under, our sweetheart tree, he used to call it. He crawled all around there looking for that ring, and never, ever found it. We thought maybe some ornery squirrel found it and ran off with it or something."
"And it was right under the tree root all the time," Kid Joey pondered.
"How about that?" Nana Rose joined him in thought.
She put the ring on her finger, and then looked over at her grandson, who watched her, looking a mite disappointed, like she was going to waltz off with his treasure. "I'm just trying it on, sweetie. It's yours. But you have to promise to let Mommy put this in a safe place until you're big enough to wear it, and it fits you properly, okay?"
"Sure! Finders keepers! But do you promise?"
"You bet, Nana Rose! Wow! A real treasure!"
And so Kid Joey solved a mystery and found a hidden treasure all in one day, and went home a hero, his trusty Kato by his side, with plenty of tales to tell his sister Rosie.
Mommy put Pappap Titus' ring in his jewelry box as he dozed off, already beginning to dream about what adventures tomorrow might hold.
To Joey and Rosie - love you!
TD - 8/22/2015