It was 1982, and I knew all the warnings about picking up hitchhikers. But this was a couple at the edge of the dreaded 40-mile desert between Fernley and Lovelock, Nevada – and surely picking up a couple was safe, right?
My six-year-old son was with me in the cab of our little Ford Ranger truck, but Danni and Sam said they would ride in the back. I felt even better after that. How could they present a danger riding in the back?
They explained they were homeless and working their way to California where they hoped to start a Christmas tree farm. I told them I could take them only as far as Lovelock. I was working for friends at their gold mine. Danni and Sam insisted that they would love to work there, too. Ed and Clo were in their 70s and welcomed all the help they could get. Their mine was 14 miles from a paved road and 40 miles from the nearest town. No electricity or running water. So…I took Danni and Sam with me.
Luke and I could only spend the weekend. I had to return to my regular job, and he had to return to school. Two weeks later, we returned to the mine. Not seeing Danni and Sam, we asked about them. Ed and Clo chuckled, then Ed sat back in his chair and roared with laughter.
“Well, girl, it was like this,” he finally said, wiping tears off his leathery face. “Danni and Clo got along real good. Sam and me…not so good. He didn’t want to haul water, dig fence posts, run the dozer, drive the dump truck, or shovel gravel into the wet washer. He complained ‘bout not getting run to town. Didn’t understand why we couldn’t make that 80-mile round trip ‘cepting a couple of times a month. Didn’t like watching out for rattlers, using the outhouse, or listening to the coyotes at night.
“Clo and me had to run to Lovelock to get family when their truck broke down. Felt sure them kids would want to go with us, but Sam said they’d stay here and work.” Ed rumbled with laughter. “Oh, they worked!
“You know the shed where I do all the welding? Well, Sam snooped around in there while he was lazing off and found brass dross on the floor from welding. Thought it was gold. So them kids scrapped up every bit of dross they could find. They got the keys to that old truck that don’t hardly run, and headed to Winnemucca to sell their gold. Truck broke down on ‘em, so they left it sitting on the side of the road and went by foot until they could catch a ride. When they showed up in Winnemucca to sell their gold at the assay office, they got arrested on outstanding warrants from Reno. Breaking and entering, theft, burglary…reckon they won’t be coming back here to work for quite a bit, girl.”
The funny part about this story is that there was gold – real gold at the mine. Ed kept a big locked box under their bed. It was full of gold, including the 10-ounce gold nugget with embedded crystal, worth a huge chunk of money. Sam and Danni could have been rich…but they went looking for gold in the wrong places.
Sadly, had Sam and Danni stayed with Ed and Clo, they would have garnered real riches. Ed was generous and paid well. Anyone who visited the mine was handed a metal detector. Any gold they found, they could keep. With no electricity, nights were spent laughing, talking, and playing board games under a kerosene lantern. So far out in the desert without city distractions, the feeling of health and freedom was so poignant that it brought tears to the eyes. That was real gold.
Sam and Danni turned their back on real gold for worthless brass doss and prison bars. But not to judge them. So many do the same thing by choosing this world’s temporary wealth over eternal riches that will never rust or corrode or be stolen.
Real gold is found in God. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” 1 Timothy 6:17.