The Great Treasure Hunt
Ron Karpinski ©1998
Ian, Irmi's boss, invited us to participate in a treasure hunt on the Sunday following Christmas. Treasure hunts are quite simple, really. You wander about for an hour or two, following a list of clues, and the person or group that finishes first wins a prize of some sort – usually a bottle of wine.
Here is another thing about treasure hunts: the host provides the food. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I rarely pass up a free meal. Irmi phoned in an R.S.V.P. and marked the date on our social calendar.
The invitation was not clear, as to the guest list. For some reason, I expected the office crowd. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
When we arrived at the front door, the scene inside shocked me to the core. Twenty "little people," each no more than three feet tall, scurried about, bouncing off of walls, it seemed. Laughing and screaming, the small darting figures all fell into one massive, simultaneous blur of animated noise. At first, I thought we had stumbled upon a colony of escaped leprechauns.
You must understand, Irmi and I have no children of our own. Of all the adult guests, we might have been the only ones who were not parents. That makes us uniquely qualified to comment on what transpired that day.
This boisterous group did not come from the workplace; rather, it was an assortment of parents and students. The treasure hunt would promote social interaction among families and also give the guests a chance to wander about Bad Soden, a quaint and lovely town. Where, exactly, Irmi and I fit escaped me.
At last, Ian stood and called the room to order. Two people actually looked up from their conversations and listened, reducing the din by little more than one octave. Undaunted, Ian tried again, this time letting loose with a deep primeval scream that shattered three wine goblets. Thus assured of the crowd's complete and undivided attention, he recited the rules of the hunt.
Most folks, if given a choice, gravitate toward old friends; but Ian had posted a list of prearranged teams, forcing strangers to meet and forge new alliances. Each team had three or four adults and a similar number of children.
Tasks were designed to elicit participation from both adults and children and to prevent any one person from dominating their group. Then it dawned on me. Solving Ian's ten clues about Bad Soden would require a team effort.
At some point, I would have to face one of those "little people" on my team and try to talk with them. What thoughts did their tiny brains hold? How would they, with their high-sugar diets, react to my older, subdued persona?
On Ian's command, sixteen adults and twenty children poured into the streets of Bad Soden, in quest of knowledge. The three adults in our group gelled quickly. We had to. Crossing the first street, with three hyper-active boys in tow, required teamwork of the first order. After crossing two more streets, the warm touch of a small hand grasping mine felt, well, almost normal.
Knowing the children would be quizzed later on what they had seen, we drilled them incessantly. "What famous author wrote War and Peace and lived in Bad Soden?" we asked. "Toy Story," answered a slightly confused young voice.
Alas, we were not without our share of disagreements. What, exactly, is a "Hessen Mann" on the side of a Fachwerkhaus, anyway? While adults pondered that one, the children, not interested, romped in nearby fields, happy just to be arm-in-arm with a favorite school chum on a crisp winter afternoon.
There is a cardinal rule associated with taking children out in public. Experienced parents know this already, but it came as a complete surprise to me. One must never travel farther than a six-year-old can walk back by himself.
When a child plops on the ground and declares himself finished, you have no choice but to hoist him into your arms. Later, several deep stains appeared on the front of my trousers where two short legs had dangled and miniature, muddy boots rubbed against my thighs. You know something? I hardly noticed.
A father had loaned his son for two hours that day, allowing me the rare privilege of staring into the future from a mere six inches away. I swear, his eyes sparkled, when that child spoke to me. You wouldn't believe the things he said!
Earlier that afternoon, another boy had wondered aloud, "What is the treasure in this treasure hunt, anyway?" I couldn't say then, but I can now.
Why, it was the children themselves, of course.