I’ve always been a big fan of intrigue, mystery, and hidden treasure. When I was 18, I wanted to sign up as part of the crew for a treasure hunting ship in the Caribbean. My parents were not too keen on the idea, especially since I would have had to put down a $5000 stake to fund the trip and secure “my share” of the booty (if any was found). Now that I’m a parent, I can’t blame them for their skepticism and refusal to lend me the $5000 I needed, but at the time I was crushed. I always wanted to live an almost pirate’s life – and that was probably my only shot.
My love of intrigue and hidden treasure probably started with the secret room in my house. My parents are devout Mormons and one of the teachings of the Church is to be self-sufficient and prepare for the future. One way to do this is by having a “year’s supply” of food – just in case someone loses a job, there is a trucking strike, the government collapses, zombies invade, etc. When my folks built their dream house in our small town, they decided to include a secret room in the basement specifically for this food storage.
The secret room was actually two rooms and a deep storage closet – and included a wood burning stove and bunk beds (I guess just in case we had to hide out from marauders). From the outside, one would look into my dad’s little office (complete with his rifle cabinet above the desk) and see only floor to ceiling, deep bookshelves along one wall. If you grabbed hold of the bookcase, put some weight behind it, and pushed to the side – it would slide into the adjacent wall and the opening to the secret room would be revealed. When you stepped inside, the décor changed to a warehouse/bunker motif. The shelves were loaded with cases of cereal, peanut butter, and cake mix (we were going to have our desserts even if civilization ended as we knew it). There were 50 gallon steel barrels filled with rice, beans, wheat, and powdered milk. In the middle of the floor, there was an ingenious contraption that my parents had designed for canned goods. We would load in the cans from the back and then they would roll down to the front for easy pickings come dinner time.
For an insecure, rather unpopular grade-school girl (oh hell, let’s just be honest – I’m STILL insecure a good portion of the time) the secret room was kind of a great place. My bedroom was also in the basement, so it was just a few steps should I get hungry in the night. My sister and I ate a whole jumbo jar of peanut butter by heaping fingerfuls in one night and, to this day, I still can’t look at a jar of the stuff without getting queasy! The secret room was also a great way to entice “friends” to make the long trek to my house – which was situated about a mile away from any neighborhood, high on the “bench” of the foothills, at the end of a dirt road. In a conspiratorial fashion, I would share the news about the secret room, swearing them to silence and assuring them that they were the only ones worthy enough to have this sensitive information. When they arrived, I would escort them to the room and nod my head knowingly as their eyes bugged out. Then, as the ever gracious hostess, I would offer them a box of Honeycomb cereal for their enjoyment. There were two reasons for this generous offer – 1) my pathetic go-to method of attempting to procure “true” friends was to give them things as often as possible, and 2) I had convinced my mom to buy a whole case of Honeycomb cereal for food storage, as I had eaten a bowl at a friend’s house and was convinced I could live off of it alone if needed. I was sad to find out that it just did not taste the same once I had a dozen boxes and I was convinced the Post Company had changed the recipe just to screw with me. My mother refused to buy any new cereal until the offending Honeycomb had been consumed….so, you see the genius of my offer of refreshments to my less discerning schoolmates.
The sharing of the secret room continued over years – and I later found out that my siblings were also letting their nearest and dearest 20 to 30-odd friends in on the secret as well. My parents, on the other hand, had no idea – until years later at church. A new family had moved into the area and as they were introduced to my parents, their eyes lit up as they enthusiastically proclaimed, “Oh – you’ve got the secret room!” I imagine to this day, hundreds of people in my hometown know the story of the secret room. God forbid that marauders ever did come to town – they would probably already be in the know and head straight for their fill of Honeycomb and peanut butter.