The kids got all clammy and nervous. They were excited in a very strange, unpredictable way which was unsettling. The bell rang and they fled down the hallway of the school screaming about mysterious codes and blood stains. I went pale and chased them. Before I could get them to shut up, the Korean director of the school where I work approached me and very seriously told me “The children are very shocked, they say blood on a treasure map. Very very shocked.”
“It’s not blood. It’s red wax. It’s just a story I invented… for teaching”.
She smiled gracefully but I couldn’t tell if I would eventually get in trouble.
It was a sunny afternoon many many many many many weeks ago when I didn’t know how to kill 5 minutes of Kinder class. I was fairly new to teaching and the children could smell my fear like a pack of roaming dingos. Kids know how to exploit the little awkward silences when an unprepared teacher falters.
I told my students I was from Colorado and that there were treasures in Colorado. Which is true. Sort of. When I notice I had secured most of their attention, I started improvising a story “Many many many many many many many years ago…” and pieced together details from a collection of old treasure tales I had heard and read. The classroom had been wild at first but as I continued the story, it grew quiet.
Narratives are sometimes linked to survival. The old Persian king stayed the execution of the storyteller every night in One Thousand and One Nights because he wanted to hear the end of each story. I didn’t have experience telling oral stories and felt I was learning something special and important that day in the classroom.
“…And my uncle… no, my father has the treasure map. He lives in Chile. I’ll ask him to send the map and then I’ll make photocopies for everybody.”
When I finished the story, the Dear Leader of the class, six year-old Elizabeth, stood up and made a pronouncement: “and then, when we are older, we and you go to Colorado and find the treasure with you!” She had the presence of a little Korean Margaret Thatcher. The whole class seconded the motion by banging on their desks and letting out war cries “KO-RE-A! KO-RE-A! KO-RE-A!” I tried to quiet them down but I was laughing too hard.
From then on, every day, kids would come up to me and ask me “Where’s the map?!”. The map’s journey developed a story of its own. I told them it was coming and used an assortment of excuses… “My dad went to get the map at his grandmother’s abandoned, burnt out house where she had kept it buried in a box under the lemon tree… My dad mailed it but sent it by “sea mail” rather than “air mail” so it will take longer to arrive… because it was cheaper, that’s why, he’s cheap like that… Oh no! there was a typhoon and the mail ship sank off the coast of the Northern Mariana Islands… …the Taiwanese Coast Guard has found the missing cargo on a beach in Keelung and it’s being sent to Korea… it should be arriving at Inchon international airport any day now…”
The wait for the map had an important dramatic effect that I stretched for a while.
The map finally arrived. I was a little unsure about how the kids were going to respond to it. I thought they would immediately tell it was an hoax. Then I thought the opposite… I would get fired for scaring the kids because it would be too real. I imagined a sensitive parent complaining to the school that their child was being taught by “crazy teacher.” To make sure the kids wouldn’t run away and travel to Colorado by themselves Goonies-style, I stipulate that the treasure could not be recovered until the first full moon of the sixth month of 2027.
I love the idea of treasure and I think most kids do, too. As a kid, I looked for treasure everywhere. I had a conviction that in the Andes existed treasure caches waiting for me inside caves filled with giant multi-colored quartz crystals. In my house, I combed the yard for anything that would lead me to the riches I knew the old owner had hid behind the adobe walls.
Perhaps the map I brought for the kids leads to no treasure. I don’t know if there’s a dead tree with an “X” mark on its trunk in Colorado. That doesn’t really matter. We search for treasure because we love adventure and a good story to tell our grandchildren. And one day, that story may save us from the sword of a king or the wrath of unruly children.