I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a sucker. You see whenever those big multi-state lotteries build up with some type of $100+ million payout I buy a ticket or two even though statistically I’d have a better chance of singing with Elvis or having my own pet Brontosaurus. Which is to say, I’ve got no chance at all. It’s always during that drive home from the convenience store after purchasing the ticket that my mind wanders about what I’d do with all that money. It’s usually thinking about that trip around the world, but just as I’m starting to plan the itinerary I pull in the garage to be met with some kind of news from the home front like “Dad, the toilet’s clogged up.” And reality bites me. Hard.
It’s with that introduction that we transition to the latest outing of the Dads’ Bucket List where we would take our little prospectors to strike it rich mining for gold and gems at the Consolidated Mine in Dahlonega. We headed up on a damp, rainy Sunday an hour north of Atlanta where 24 of us (8 dads, 16 kids) planned to unearth “a million pounds”, as my son Bo declared, of gold. I rode up with Philly Mac (real name withheld as professional courtesy) where the conversation immediately came to our little expedition. I let him know there was still gold to be found in the mine. I noticed he got real quiet and his mind was churning. The next thing I know, he pulls out his cell phone dials a number and leaves a message that went something like this: “Hey Boss-man, it’s Philly. I won’t be in to work tomorrow, or the next day or even the day after that. In fact, you’ll never see my beautiful tuukus (no idea what he even meant by that) again because by the time you get this I’ll be drinking Mai Tais and eating caviar on my yacht somewhere in the bluest waters the Caribbean has to offer. So you can take your job and shove it!” Dude ends the call, and his adrenaline is really flowing. He looks at me and says “You think he got the message?” just as we blow past our exit. His wise son in the backseat then posited the following, “Dad, are we going to be living under a bridge?”
We all gathered at the mine and met our hand selected guide, Miner Mike. This wasn’t a case where they gave him some fake title like the Disney Jungle Cruise “Safari Guides” who are actually aspiring comedians. This guy was a real live miner all the way down to his white beard that nearly touched his belt buckle (who knew the ZZ Top look didn’t go out with the 80s?). After a little history lesson where we learned about the mine’s origins dating back to 1829, we headed deep inside the mine (about 60 feet below earth, but over 250 feet below where the original earth stood before it was blasted away with hydraulic pumps and explosives – “you mean we get to use dynamite, dad?”). Once we were in there the kids were having a blast (pun intended) seeing and exploring tunnels and even taking a crack at the rock with some non-explosive mining tools. It got a little eery when Miner Mike turned the lights out for just a few moments and we started to hear banjos playing. Fortunately, super stealth Matt Hickman flipped the backup emergency light switch. Nothing to see here kids, carry on.
As we continued to wind through, the kids stayed together as they huddled around our guide at each stop. We got to see a huge hole where they took out 54 pounds of gold one day in 1901 (over $1.2 million based on today’s price of gold). Two of our lucky tykes were able to contract rabies when they got bit by a couple of the live bats we saw hanging from the ceiling (at least they weren’t my kids). Aside from that little drama the dads hung back, traded stories and took in the mining experience. Being in dark, confined space with the prospect of getting caved in at any time made a lot of us thankful we hadn’t chosen this as our vocation. At one point, realizing we weren’t finding gold, Philly Mac frantically tried to make a call on his phone and started yelling, “why can’t I get a signal?”. We thought it was because we were so far underground, but came to light later that his boss had already cancelled his company cell phone. Just a small misjudgment on an otherwise awesome day.
After the mine tour, we set up our little guys with some gemstone mining. They each sat at their station and let the water wash away sand to reveal gems like rubies, emeralds and citrine (sorry mom, we traded them in at the gift shop for candy and sling shots). Once we finished gem mining, we gathered outside under covered picnic tables where we set the kids up with some pink lemonade flavored cupcakes (how about that for a little Martha Stewart touch?). It was a good chance for the dads to hang out for a bit and catch up on the common subjects: sports, work, family and more sports.
As we were driving home, Phil was updating his resume by dictating changes to his son. It gave me some time to think. I thought about an old family friend who struck it rich, literally, in oil. His name was Bob Qualls. In addition to being a devoted dad he was a very gracious, generous man with a personality and spirit as big as his home state of Texas. One day, he came home from work while my family was at their house and the first thing he said was, “Kiss me, Honey, I’m a millionaire!”. A line I’ll never forget. He’d had a gusher that came in.
Well, for this Dads’ Bucket List outing none of us hit a gusher, found a 54 pound gold rock or even chipped out a small nugget. And although we didn’t find any material riches, we found that spending quality time with our little guys is always something to treasure. And there was another lesson that hit me later on as I listened to the rain pound on my roof later that night. You see, we had 24 people commit to the outing. And on a nasty, rainy day we had 24 people show up. Not one person found a convenient excuse not to make it. And that’s important. When you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it. It’s about setting an example for our kids. About living up to your word. About being committed. And, about doing the right thing.
Go. See. Be. Do.
Video of the Consolidated Mine on 11Alive: http://www.11alive.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=290601