I’ve followed Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse’s musings on Facebook, and have even exchanged mail with him from time to time, but had never met him in the flesh.
When he posted that he’d be hawking his book, “Dear Samuel Clemens” Messages in a Bottle , on Main Street (with a $5 discount to “locals”), I figured it was time we hooked up.
“Want to make a deal?”
I introduced myself, and said, “I think a might be able to slip by as a local, and I’d be happy to pay you $15 for your book, but I wondered if you’d like to trade for my Smelterville: A Community of Love.”
We bumped elbows and the deal was sealed.
We share a love of the river
Randy has led a much more adventuresome life than I have. He’s been a treasure salvor, an historian, a teacher, and a devotee of Mark Twain. I’ve just been a chronicler of other folks deeds and foibles.
Several years ago, the Mississippi gave Randy a tantalizing look at the bones of a boat exposed when the water went down.
He and the river have been playing hide and seek with the boat ever since.
I’m pretty sure the first contact I had with Randy was when he offered to share the location of the wreck if I would promise to keep the exact location secret.
I decided the best way for me to keep the secret was for me not to go see the site.
The Mississippi can be unforgiving to the careless. This isn’t Randy’s wreck, but it’s a barge that ran aground near Cape Rock in 2012.
We understand each other
Randy was a diver with Mel Fisher, who helped recover gold and other items from the Atocha shipwreck off Key West. He and I speak the same language.
“After the initial phase of being allured by the gold and silver discoveries, I found the simple items from every day life just as unique in their own way. They spoke to me. Candlestick holders were fascinating to find. How many meals did they grace a table for and who appreciated the glow of the stick they held, and for what reason were they gathered around it? How much laughter, conversation and arguing had the the candlestick holders, with their fiery tube of wax and string been witness to?”
I walk around in old abandoned houses trying to pick up the vibes of those who lived there. The pride the first owners felt; marks on the door frames chronicling the growth of children; wondering what joys and sorrows were contained inside the walls. Sometimes those vibes hit me too hard.
When I looked through this open window of an old house in St. Mary, I had to wonder what did the owners take from those opened drawers, and why did the random beads, buttons and juice squeezer not make the cut when they closed the door the last time?
Letters to Mark Twain
The book is a series of letters Randy has written to Mark Twain: “each letter I write to you will be sealed in a bottle and tossed into the mighty Mississippi. There are no post offices in heaven or hell. Where we go, we never know until the last breath escapes our lungs. Maybe we disappear into inky oblivion from whence we came. Should your spirit dwell on the river, please read and respond in whatever manner a will-o’-wisp employs. I need your help while looking for your lost and discarded possessions.”
Searching for Mark Twain’s buried treasure
Randy has been using a metal detector to search for artifacts at Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal (with permission, I should note.
“Sam, to investigate and excavate the soil where you and your family once lived, loved and walked is an intimate act, too. What will your candlestick holder be that shines light on your time there on Hill Street? A coin, ring, shoe buckle, tool or object that will be attributed to you? Knowing your affinity for buried treasure causes me, in my wildest imagination, to hope that you buried something there.”
Whenever I take someone new to see what’s left of Cairo, we stop here long enough for them to pry up a piece of blue tile from what used to be a large department store.
I hope they keep it as a memory of a town that is rapidly disappearing, and as a link to me. Probably, though, they’ll pull open a drawer some day, and say, “What the hell is this?” and pitch it in the trash.
I guess I can’t be surprised. On any given day, some of my best work ended up on the floor being peed on by a poodle.
Randy was kind enough to say some nice words about my Smelterville book on his Facebook page, and that caused a lot of folks to wonder where they could find it.
Here’s the answer:
Annie Laurie’s Antique Store, 536 Broadway Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-339-1301, $20 in person.
Pastimes Antiques, 45 Main Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-332-8882. $20 in person.
Cape Girardeau County History Center, 102 S. High Street, Jackson, Mo., 63755; Phone 573-979-5170. $20 in person; $30 to cover shipping and handling if mailed.