Alison Johnson Memoir - "The Eleventh Hour Can’t Last Forever"

Excerpts from “The Eleventh Hour Can’t Last Forever”

Yes, Dad Was Eccentric

The constant tension in our home, which only added to Diane’s problems, was an inevitable result of Dad's eccentricities. It was almost impossible to replica watches uk avoid arguing with someone who had such strange ideas and habits. For a number of years, Dad drove his car on the wrong side of the highway to wear the tires evenly. He survived this practice only because there was so little traffic on the highways of southwest Nebraska. One day when I was riding with him, he was stopped by a highway patrolman, who replica watches assumed Dad was drunk because he had been driving all over the road. The patrolman was clearly perplexed when he could smell no alcohol on Dad's breath and finally let him go with a warning. Fortunately, Dad did not tell him his theory about wearing the tires evenly.

Finding a Treasure When You Don't Have a Map

To complicate matters, a local teenage boy broke into Dad's house while he was in the hospital and stole many of his gold and silver coins. Dad had become increasingly careless over the years about where he hid things. According to town rumor, this boy had boasted to a friend that he had watched Dad through a window and knew where he had hidden coins. Since he found a lot of them in the cedar chest in Dad's bedroom, he rolex replica must have known where to look. Something apparently frightened him before he was finished because he left an overturned pail of coins on the back porch that Dad's caretaker, Clark Brown, discovered when he went over to the house to clean the furnace. A farmer south of town even found some foreign gold coins that had been thrown off the road onto his property. For all we know, there are still coins scattered through the weed-choked ditches along that country road. Of course, in a small town everyone knew who the thief was within a couple of days, but no one will ever know how much he got away with.

There was still more than enough hidden treasure for us to worry about in any case. For twenty years we had all speculated about what in the world we would do when Dad died or became incapacitated some day, leaving us to deal with his hoard of gold and silver. Despite our urging, we knew he had never made a list indicating where coins were hidden. We wondered if he even remembered all the places where he had squirreled things away over the years.

Now the time so long dreaded by us all had finally arrived; we had to locate all of Dad's hidden coins and move them safely to a bank. Wells and I decided we would have to cut short our travels in Europe that following summer and return to spend the month of August in Palisade gathering up the collection.

Wells and I and our three daughters, Marie, Kathryn, and Christine, who were eleven, eight, and not quite two, arrived back in Palisade at the end of July. It was an all too abrupt transition to leave the charm and beauty of Paris with its central axis of architectural splendor running from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame and return to Palisade, Nebraska, with its dusty little Main Street where every other shabby building stood empty. There we found ourselves, however, and Diane joined us from Denver on the day of our arrival. That night after the children were asleep, we made plans for the treasure hunt the next morning. Our friends Helen and Clark Brown had offered to help this month in any way they could and began by inviting the children to spend the day with them while we searched for coins. They were still young enough that we wanted them to know nothing about the hidden treasure. Otherwise, they might have thought that although money doesn't grow on trees, one could find it lying about almost anywhere else.

Helen and Clark knew all about the gold and silver since Helen had dusted around it during all the years she had housecleaned for Mom and Dad. Our family had always relied totally upon the Browns' integrity, knowing they would never touch a single coin, although they lived on a very meager income from Clark's work at the Krotter gravel pit and Helen's housework. Helen told me that she had once scolded Dad when she went over to the house to clean and found $10,000 spread out on his bed. She feared that such behavior might some day put her in an awkward position if money were ever missing.

We decided to start our search at the south house. For many years the family had known that Dad had hidden gold coins in some sort of an old, unused heating duct located in a tiny storeroom near the furnace. Wells, Diane, and I drove out to the house with a sense of high adventure mixed with apprehension, not knowing whether thieves had already found the coins. A neighbor boy had broken into the south house a few months before, but as far as we knew, this thief had only taken a few objects of little value.

After we got out of the car, we stood for a moment in the weed-filled driveway, looking at the house where Diane and I had grown up, now sunk into a sorry state of decay. It had not been painted since my parents moved out some twenty years before, and an upstairs window was broken. Through the jagged hole fluttered a tattered curtain. The large picture windows Mom had been so proud of were pockmarked by bullet holes from the rifle of some joy-riding teenager. Since the back steps were about to collapse, we walked through the weeds to the front of the house. It gave us a strange feeling to survey the abandoned house with its paint peeling off and realize that it probably contained a fortune in gold and silver. When we entered the front door, we saw that the living room was piled with stacks of books so high they were toppling over. In the middle of the rug was a pile of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling, covering many of the books with jagged shards and white powder. We stepped around the dusty mess and headed for the basement.

With a feeling of great excitement, we went down the stairs and looked around the walls of the little storeroom, but we saw nothing that appeared to be the heating duct Mom had mentioned. We decided to go upstairs to the spot directly above the storeroom, where there was a large cold air duct in the floor. But this duct did not look promising when we opened it up, so we then looked into a hot air radiator nearby. This too proved fruitless. Feeling increasingly uneasy, we headed back down to the basement. This time we looked more carefully at the floor of the storeroom and discovered that a large pile of mag azines concealed an opening leading down under the floor. When Wells reached down into the hole, he pulled out a couple of bags of gold coins. It was an immense relief to know that the coins had not all disappeared.

This cache had an interesting history because Dad had originally told no one of its existence. During the Christmas vacation of 1958, he had walked out to the south house to fix the coal furnace one night. When two hours passed with no sign of Dad, Kent went out to check up on him and discovered he had had a heart attack. Dad later told Mom about the absolute panic that had gripped him when he realized he might die before he had a chance to tell anyone in the family about the gold coins hidden under the floor of the storeroom. It's a wonder the added stress didn't finish him off on the spot. While he was recovering in the hospital, he told Mom about this cache and also where he had hidden other coins.

Wells, Diane, and I next turned our attention elsewhere in the basement. The search was very exciting, yet at the same time we were frightened that someone might be waiting to rob us of the gold and silver once we located it. After all, the whole town knew that one thief had already found a large number of coins. For all we knew, that young man had boasted to other criminals in the state penitentiary that he knew where a hoard of gold and silver was hidden. But despite our apprehension, we had to keep looking, so we next investigated an old "fruit room" where we used to store canned goods. Mixed in with boxes of musty old teddy bears and other discarded toys tossed away here years ago, we found more coins. The bottom of an old clothes chute yielded a couple of large bags of quarters. Next we decided to check the attic, since Mom had always thought Dad had hidden things there. Sure enough, when Wells climbed up through the linen closet shelves into the attic, he found many more bags of coins. The treasure hunt was off to a great start, but we had only begun.

After spending the morning checking out the most logical spots in the south house, we went back into town for lunch, carrying along all of our loot. We now had to find places in the town house to hide all the coins so that our children wouldn't see them. All month long we had to keep up the same dual game of hide and seek, finding gold and silver and then hiding it all again.

We had decided to dig in the garage that afternoon for the large cache Dad had buried there. There was a logistics problem involved in this operation, however, because it would look suspicious if anyone saw us carrying shovels out to the garage. We finally settled on the following plan: I went out in the backyard to see that the coast was clear, and then Wells carried the shovels out and concealed them in the tall weeds by the garage door opening onto the alley. Fifteen minutes later we went out again, and seeing no one in sight, we unlocked the garage and slipped in with the shovels.

The garage space was large, perhaps 40' by 60', but I had a vague impression where the coins were buried from my earlier conversations with Dad. I thought that from the southwest corner we should come twice as far along the length of the room as along the width. From Mom's information that Dad had moved a heavy table to conceal the spot, we decided we should look first under the long table in the middle of the room. We poked around under it with the shovels, but it did not appear that the ground there had ever been disturbed. The measurements I had in mind did not correspond with the position of the table either. Concluding it was possible that someone had moved the table during the intervening decade, we started investigating elsewhere. We were beginning to fear we would have to dig up half of the huge garage when Wells suddenly found a spot where it seemed easier to dig. After going down about a foot, he exclaimed in great excitement, "I've hit something; there's wood down here!" A few more shovelfuls revealed what appeared to be the top of a very large wooden box. Wells began digging faster now that he thought he had found the buried treasure. In that closed space, the air quickly filled with dust that soon became so thick we had to step outside for a few minutes to breathe some fresh air and let the dust settle. Eventually the whole top of the box was exposed; it was about 2' by 4' in si ze. After we had pried off the lid, we saw the box was about two feet deep and was filled with bags of coins. When Wells reached down to pull up a bag so we could open it, the bottom of the bag fell out because the canvas had rotted during the ten years it had lain in the ground. Shiny dimes spilled out in every direction into the box and the surrounding dirt.

Coins in the Coalbin?

We also had another possible hiding place to check out in the basement. A friend of Dad’s from McCook had contacted us to say that Dad had discussed with him the possibility of breaking up the concrete floor in his basement to bury more gold or silver. Thus the friend urged us to look very carefully at the basement floors in both the town house and the south house to see if any spot appeared to have been recemented. We checked all the floor surfaces that we could, and Wells was even able to check the floor of the coal bin in the south house since there wasn’t too much coal left in it. The town house coal bin was more of a problem because it still contained a lot of coal, so we were not able to check out the floor at that point.

A few years later when I went out to Palisade after my parents had died to clear out the town house so that we could sell it, I decided to ask a young cousin to shovel the coal around from one side of the large coal bin to the other so we could see if the cement floor had ever been disturbed. My cousin Linda, who still lived in southwest Nebraska, brought her son Bradley over to do the shoveling. My cousin Fred also showed up for the occasion. So here we were, four Krotter cousins standing in the coal bin when suddenly the door opened and there stood my cousin Gene Schroeder and an appraiser named Bob Horn, whom he was showing through the house. How were we to explain what four Krotters were doing in the coal bin? We didn’t even try. Bob had probably heard enough rumors about Dad’s collection that he figured it out for himself.

Diane Hand-Counts Two Tons of Coins

The gold and silver were still stacked in six very large vaults in the safe deposit area of our Denver bank. (Each vault had a capacity of at least twenty cubic feet.) We had occasionally considered having the collection appraised but had not done so, primarily because Diane didn't want any local coin dealers to know about the collection. By now she was as much of a gold-bug as Dad. Like him, she seemed to derive an emotional satisfaction from actually touching the gold and silver coins. In the fall of 1979, she announced to me that she intended to hand count the hoard to get a more accurate idea of what we owned.

The idea was clearly absurd. I said at once that I didn't think it was practical to sort and count two tons of coins by hand. It seemed about as efficient as trying to scrub a gym floor with a toothbrush. Diane was not to be deterred, however. Over the next few months, she spent untold hours in the vault area of the bank basement counting piles of coins. I was amazed when I saw how she had done it. Instead of counting up uniform amounts of like coins into bank bags, she simply counted the coins and put them back in the random containers in which she had found them. She would count the coins in a coffee can and then put 226 quarters back into the bottom of the can with a piece of paper on top saying "226 quarters." Next would come a layer of dimes with a piece of paper covering them saying "139 dimes." Then there might be a layer of nickels on top of the dimes. The next person who came along couldn't get the various denominations of coins out of the can without them all mixing together. She even left coins in boxes that were falling apart.

Later Diane told me she had thought that if she left the coins in their original containers, we might have more information about their source and quality. She even left a few dimes in the Smith Brothers cough box in which Dad had placed them. But we had hurriedly gathered up most of the coins in helteskelter fashion, simply dumping them randomly into whatever containers were at hand. The whole hand-counting operation was all too typical of Diane's totally impractical nature. Even though she was afraid to have the bank handle the project because of her obsession with secrecy, we could have rented a machine to count and sort the coins accurately and efficiently.

Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations: The Decline of My Alcoholic Brother

We asked Kent if there were other people living in his house because someone else often answered the phone. He replied that a woman named Elizabeth lived with him, together with her eighteen-year-old son. The next phone call we received was from Kent's gambler friend, Harry Richardson. We were not favorably disposed toward him, but his phone call disarmed us somewhat because he was a very intelligent, articulate person and seemed interested in Kent's welfare. He confirmed that Kent was again drinking heavily and had been unemployed for some time. Harry assured us that although he had borrowed money from Kent in the past and had not yet repaid the debt, he had his welfare at heart and often had provided him with meals when he didn't have enough to eat. He thought it was important to get Kent to "take the cure" at this point.

It was a puzzling phone call; we weren't sure what to make of Harry Richardson. The next night we received a call from Kent, with Harry joining the conversation on an extension phone. Harry had persuaded Kent to explain to us all about his f riend Elizabeth. It was a shocking and depressing tale. Kent had met her at a mental health clinic where he was being treated for alcoholism and she for manic-depression. We later heard she was many years older than Kent. She first moved in with him when he was still living in an apartment. Kent was very reluctant to tell us the sordid details and was clearly intoxicated. He began by saying, "I really hate to say this; it's really difficult for me to tell you these things." Then he described how Elizabeth had deliberately set fire to his apartment. The fact that Kent didn't immediately get rid of her after that disaster told me how hopeless it was to try to patch together his life. Before long she attempted suicide in his apartment via the gas oven. He arrived home just in time to save her; the emergency room doctor said she would have died if he had been any later.

During this period, Kent had bought a new house that turned out to be only an albatross around his neck. It was a large old brick house with two main floors and a usable attic. Kent thought he was getting a bargain, but it was the kind of house that needed lots of expensive repairs. He had bought it without checking carefully enough into the costs of making it livable. The previous plumbing and hot-water heating system had frozen, breaking several pipes and radiators, so the entire system had to be redone.

Kent's large house had made it all too attractive for Elizabeth to move in, bringing her teenage son along. He seemed to be a problem almost equal to his mother. Kent, who loved to indulge in amateur psychology, told us that he diagnosed him to be a "psychopath." Whatever the reasons were for Kent making that evaluation, it was obvious he should never have let the boy past the front door. As it turned out, he stole some gold coins from Kent. Like his father, Kent had purchased a number of gold coins but didn't believe banks were a safe place to keep them because of the danger of government confiscation. As I later learned, the ironic part of the whole episode was that he had spent $3,000 on an elaborate fire and burglar alarm system to protect his gold. Only Kent would spend $3,000 on a burglar alarm system and then invite a thief to live with him.

Harry also told us where most of Kent's money had gone. As part of the conservatorship business, we had paid off the balance of the inheritances due to the Krotter grandchildren from their grandmother. Kent had received about $50,000 only a couple of years earlier. It was hard to imagine how he had gone through so much money so quickly since he had made only a small down payment on his house, but Harry explained that Kent had lost a large sum playing the silver futures market and had also invested in bogus emeralds.

According to Harry, Kent's house was such a pigsty and smelled so foul it was hard for him to go there. Kent had a cat but kept no litter-box for it, so cat feces and urine on the floors added to the mess throughout the house. Harry also reported that Kent had sold most of his furniture to raise money and was sleeping on the floor in a corner.