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Penny Hibbard and the Treasure Tree
By Eugene Lee

In 1925 I was living with my father and mother in a summer cottage on Lake Ripley. Lake Ripley is a small (518 acres) glacier lake in southern Wisconsin. It is one mile east of the small Village of Cambridge.

For all practical purposes Cambridge is just a service area for the prosperous farmers surrounding the village and the summer visitors who come to Lake Ripley during the summer months.

My father, Edward Edson Lee (Leo Edward), was very busy writing his books and endless short stories for children. Grosset & Dunlap, the American Boy, The Target, The Classmate and other publishers were constantly on his back for more material. "Words" were what they wanted as they stated in their letters. Even with this rush, he always found the time to guide and instruct me.

He had definite ideas about eh people I should meet and the experiences I should have.

One of the experiences I should have was to work in a small-town General Store. I know that this idea came from his first published book, Andy Blake in Advertising (circa 1922). The hero, Andy Blake, started his advertising career in a small town General Store.

As we were eating our Sunday morning pancakes on a shiny morning in late May, Leo spoke up.

"Beany, I talked yesterday to George Post at his general store. He tells me that he needs a boy in his store for the months of June, July and August. He told me he would be interested in hiring you. You are to go down to his store on Monday morning to find out when you start work. Mr. Post told me that the pay is twelve dollars and fifty cents a week and you will be required to work six days of the week and Wednesday and Saturday nights. Also you would be required to drive the delivery truck out around the lake each day when the summer people arrive. Mr. Post knows about the special driving license I secured for you so you could drive your mother around when I am out of town on business. I know he had a number of other boys that wanted the job but selected you because you had a driving license."

I had learned long ago that when Leo said I should "do" something that this was an order. So I immediately replied:

"When you drive down to get the mail on Monday, I will go along and go see Mr. Post. Thank you for thinking of me and securing such a fine job for me for the summer."

I would like to say at this point that I did not want the job in the store for twelve dollars and fifty cents a week. I could become a huge financial loss for me.

If left to myself at the lake I could easily make fifty dollars or more each week selling minnows, worms, crabs and other fishing bait. Quite often I took "sports", as we called the tourist fishermen, out on the lake to show them where and how to catch the best Bass, Crappies and blue gills. For this I would receive pay as well as selling them bait.

Also in some cases I would sell the "sport " all the fish I caught so he could make a larger show when he went home.

My mother loved my father as much as I did. She saw at once that I did not want the job, but had too much love and respect for Leo to turn him down. So when Leo left the table to go out to his studio to write she said to me:

"When you take the job in the sore, Beany, I will be glad to sell your bait to all your customers. I'm sure you will have time in the early morning to seine minnows. I will get up early and get you a good breakfast. Also, on Sunday you will find the time to take your 'sport' friends out to fish. During this summer I will not insist you go to Sunday School."

My mother was one of the kindest and warmest people I have every known. She was loving and caring up to her death at 80.

I started at the George E. Post General Store on Tuesday morning. After a general description of my duties I was put to work sweeping, cleaning and placing items on the shelves. Each item was hand marked with the price. I was shown how the prices were calculated from the invoices. Math was my best subject in school and I had little trouble with percentage mark ups.

As you entered the door, the first thing on the left was a large basket of Lutefish. This is a dried fish that was much loved by the old Norwegian families. It was usually eaten with a homemade bread product called Lufsa.

I remember my mother trying to prepare a supper of Lutefish and Lufsa with the help of a Norwegian friend. We were unable to eat the resulting meal. When I tried feeding some of it to my pet bantam hen, which usually ate everything, she just jumped up in the air and said, "squawk!" and ran under the house to hide.

The next item was a very large glass case full of all types of cigars. On to was a device to snap off the ends of cigars. A constant burning lighter was next. It became my job to light it each morning and extinguish it each night at close up.

On the wall in back of the cigar case was stacked every brand of chewing tobacco and snuff. Cigarettes were sold at the drug store.

Next was a large red machine with two large wheels, a manually operated coffee grinder.

Then came a counter with a cash register and all the canned goods on the shelf in back of it.

All items such as flour, sugar, cookies, salt, corn meal, coffee, etc., came in bulk. The barrels and boxes containing them were arranged along the wall together, with a small scale with a metal basket.

For sugar, rice, etc., you just dipped the metal basket into the barrel and then put the basket on the scale. For items such as cookies or candy you dipped in with your hands and put the items in the basket. Sanitation was not a big item in small town America, 1925.

On the right side of the store was a small area that sold boots for men.

Behind an ornamental facing was the local Post Office. This was mostly operated by Mrs. Post.

In the front of the store was a section of work clothes for men. Next to it was another section for ladies clothes and other items ladies might want.

Finally, there was the small pile of boxes wrapped in newspaper and stacked on the end of the counter behind a large display of spools of thread. I wondered what was in these mysterious boxes wrapped in newspaper.

Little did I realize that the product name of the items in these boxes would lead to making the best friend I have ever had. From this friend I would learn everything about fishing in Lake Ripley. I would have a fantastic adventure and save the life of my good friend. Finally, I would receive a most wonderful gift.

Mr. Post picked up one of the mysterious boxes, removed the newspaper cover, and said to me:

"Beany, this product is Kotex. It is a very new product but I think you know what it is. Your first job each morning, before we open up, will be to check the number of wrapped boxes on the counter. I try to have at least twenty-four boxes on display each day. You will find the large shipping box in the storeroom. Never throw away any shipping boxes. Open them carefully so they can be used to pack groceries in for our customers."

Then Mr. Post glanced around the store to be sure no one was around to hear what he was about to say.

"Never user the word of this product in the store. I am the only dealer in Cambridge that handles it. The ladies that want the product know what is in the packages wrapped in newspaper. Most are quite shy about the product. Some are so shy that they do not want it packed in with their groceries."

Then Mr. Post went on to tell me about "Penny" Hibbard, only he called him Mr. Hibbard.

"Every Wednesday and Saturday night," said Mr. Post, "Mr. Hibbard will come to the store for his supplies. It will be your job, Beany, to wait on him. He will hand you a list of what he wants and give you a ten-dollar bill. Also, he will give you a leather pouch."

"You will fill his order, and place the items in one of our strongest and best shipping boxes. Then leave the box by our front door for Mr. Hibbard to pick up. Whatever change he has due him you will place in the pouch, in pennies only. Then place the pouch in the box with his groceries."

Mr. Post put on a big smile, which he seldom did, and went on.

"I guess this is the reason why most Cambridge people call him Penny. He always demands pennies for his change. He lives on the island across the bay from you. I expect you know him?"

I replied that I knew him very well, and told Mr. Post how I had been thrown off the island. Also how Mr. Hibbard had seen my father in town and told him:

"Mr. Edwards, I had to tell Beany to leave the island. I was afraid he might scare some of my cows or sheep. Would you tell him not to come on the island again?"

Mr. Post continued:

"Mr. Hibbard is one of my best customers. He started dealing with me fifteen years ago when I opened the store. He pays only by cash—no charges."

"When you fill his order, put in only the best. If he has bulk items, be sure you give him at least two ounces more. He expects this."

The next night, Wednesday, Mr. Hibbard came into the store. I took his list, the crisp new ten-dollar bill, and the leather pouch. Without saying a single word he left the store. I proceeded to fill his order and fill the leather pouch with the change in pennies.

The strongest and best shipping box I had was the box that Kotex had come in. Printed on the box on all sides was the word Kotex in bright blue script letters. I thought it would be fun to put Mr. Hibbard's groceries in this box. It worked as I thought it would.

When he carried the box to his truck I heard some of his buddies call out to him:

"Hey, Penny, are you using the stuff now? You got some young female thing over on that island fortress of yours that needs that stuff?"

Naturally, Penny was quite embarrassed, and I felt happy to pay him back for making me leave his island.

The week went on and came Saturday. Mr. Hibbard came in the store again. This time he went directly to Mr. Post and talked with him for some time. Mr. Post then called me over.

"Beany, Mr. Hibbard tells me that when you packed his groceries last Wednesday, you put them in a box with those words on it. Why did you do this? Mr. Hibbard tells me that he was much embarrassed."

I acted very innocent and replied to the question:

"You told me to use the best and strongest box I had for Mr. Hibbard's order. The box I gave him was the best I had."

This was a small lie. Even at the young age of fifteen I had learned that the small lie often seemed to keep a person out of much trouble.

Mr. Post then told me to wait on Mr. Hibbard. I filled his order and placed it in a strong and plain box. I filled the pouch with the required change in pennies, and put it by the front door.

When Mr. Hibbard came to get the box I went over to him and said:

"I am very sorry, Mr. Hibbard, that I did something last Wednesday night that caused you embarrassment. I will never do such a thing to you again. I would like to repay you for the trouble I caused you. If there is any job I can do for you, free, over on your island, just call my father. I will then come over and help you."

I have never seen such a change in a man. His normally sour face broke into a large smile. He actually put an arm over my shoulder and said:

"Beany, I know you did not intend to hurt me. Any boy with such a fine father could not be bad. When your father learned I liked cats, he gave me an autographed copy of his second published book, -- Jerry Todd and the Rose Colored Cat.' He also told me how much you liked to fish, and your desire to learn more about fishing on the lake."

Then he picked up his box of groceries and I followed him out to his truck and he turned to me with another big smile and said:

"Tomorrow is Sunday, Beany. Paddle your canoe over to my house about 4 in the morning. Bring your best rod and a good supply of large and small shiners. If you have any small crabs, bring a few of them. We will go out on the lake in my new boat and I will show you a few tricks on catching the large bass."

This was the start of the most lasting friendship I had ever had. I fished all summer every Sunday with Mr. Hibbard. He was to teach me how to follow the fish about the lake in their daily migrations.

I also spent many evening at his farm helping him with his chores. He taught me how to milk a cow. I learned how to saddle and care for and ride a horse. I became quite friendly with his strange Maiden sister who people said was "crazy." She and her brother were just two lonely people.

I remember Mr. Hibbard throwing his arms about my neck once and saying:

"Beany, you are just like a son to me. How lucky we were to meet."

I learned many things about this brother and sister. They had been born on an island called Anguilla. This is a small island close to the popular French and Dutch island of St. Martens.

Their father was in the boat building business on the island. At an early age the son took up the trade of building boats.

On a trip to the States, the elder Mr. Hibbard visited Lake Ripley and purchased the island. He intended to build a home on the island and retire there.

Fate was to change those plans. Both the parents were killed in a boating accident. The result was that the boating business was sold and all monies placed in a trust fund to be paid monthly to Mr. Hibbard and his sister.

Penny and his sister moved to the island on lake Ripley. He built the small house, barn and out buildings. He also built the wood working shop. In this shop he built, one at a time, the wonderful clinker type boats that he had learned to build on Anguilla. He used native Tamarack timber from his swamp. Each boat was a masterpiece of construction, and always built for a specific customer.

Of all the tings I was to learn about Penny and his interesting life I never was able to find where he hid his penny hoard. I never mentioned the pennies as I felt it was none of my business.

The summer waned towards fall. In early August Penny did not show up for his supplies on Wednesday night. That evening I paddled across the bay to see his sister.

His sister said that her brother did not come home on Tuesday night. His truck was parked in the yard. His boat was tied to the pier. She had no idea where he was.

When I left the store on Wednesday night Mr. Post told me I could have Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a vacation. He intended to close the store for three days to check and do inventory. Then he said to me:

"Beany, you have worked very hard all summer and need a vacation before school starts. Maybe you will have some time to find out what happened to Mr. Hibbard."

I had one thing in my mind to do and it was not fishing. A very friendly "sport" from Chicago had showed me how to build a box kite with wings. This was a type of kite I had seen in pictures but never had the plans and material to build one. The "sport" had left me accurate plans and all the sticks and white paper I would need.

With help from my mother I had the kite built in two hours. It was my intention to fly it off our pier out over the lake. It was a perfect day for this as the wind was directly from the south and the kite would fly out over the bay and the island.

Before I few the fancy kite, I thought it would be nice to have it decorated. I thought at once of a girl of my age in Cambridge who wav very clever in drawing and painting. Her name was Betty Gates and she was a close friend of my family. As I had to go to Cambridge for string, I took the kite along and went over to see Betty. I found her curled up in a chair reading a book, and asked her if she could decorate the kite. She admired my kite construction and then showed me the book she was reading. It was Leo's latest published book, ‘Poppy Ott and the Tittering Totem.' She then said she had a great idea.

"Let me decorate the kite to surprise Leo. He came to see me yesterday and gave me this autographed copy of his latest book. I have been reading it and it is great."

"On the wing of the kite I will paint a totem pole just like the one on the cover of the book. On the other wing I'll paint a simple picture of Hi-Lee Cottage. On the body of the kite I'll letter, ‘Poppy Ott and the Tittering Totem, by Leo Edwards,' and try to make sketches of Poppy Ott and Leo. It should only take me an hour.

"So, while you are walking down town Beany to get the string and pick up the mail I should have it nearly done by the time you get back."

When I got back from my errands in town the kite was done. Betty and I then walked out to the lake to fly it. It flew just great out over the lake. Leo was not writing at his studio and when he saw the kite was greatly please with it. He and Betty were great friends.

Then came disaster. I had underestimated the pull of the kite and had not got strong enough string. When the string broke the kite soared thru the air and landed in the very top of the huge bass wood tree that grew on the very top of the island. We just could not let such a good kite go, so Betty and I took the canoe across the bay to the island. It was my intention to climb the tree to secure the kite.

A bass wood tree is easy to climb. The limbs are very strong and close together. In a matter of minutes I had rescued the kite and lowered it down to Betty. On my way down the tree I noticed that there was a large hole where the limbs joined the huge trunk. It was obvious to me that the tree was hollow. The hole was large enough to let a person crawl thru it. There was a broken rope tied to a limb and the rope dangled thru the hole. I called down to Betty.

"Betty, I think there is something inside this hollow tree! Would you please get my flashlight out of my tackle box in the canoe?"

Betty climbed up and handed me the flashlight. When I looked down inside the tree I could see what looked like millions of pennies. Lying on top of this mountain of pennies was by best friend, the vanished Penny Hibbard.

I called to him to see if he was alive. Finally he moved and a very weak voice came up to me.

"Beany, is that you? How did you ever find me? It is a miracle. I climbed down here on a rope to look over my penny collection. The rope broke and I could not get out. I thought for sure hat I was going to die inside this tree."

If you go in my barn, you will find a number of good ropes. Lower one to me, and I will tie it around my waist. I am so weak I could not climb up a rope."

I called down to Betty, asking her to get the ropes and bring back the sister. I did not want to leave Penny. The flashlight was kept on him and I talked to him.

He was obviously suffering from fright, thirst, and hunger.

Betty climbed up the tree bringing the rope. We lowered the rope down to Penny who tied it around his waist. Without much difficulty we pulled him up through the hole and lowered him down to his excited and grateful sister.

This about ends my story about the Treasure Tree and Penny Hibbard. Betty and I took Penny in the canoe over to our house. My mother fed him and hovered over him. My father called my Uncle Amundson, the Cambridge Doctor, to come out and check Penny over. All that was wrong with him was recovery from pure fright.

In the next few days Penny, Betty and myself hauled tubs of pennies out of the tree. These were all taken down to Cambridge to my Uncle, Dr. Amundson. The dr. had a huge coin collection and knew much about coins. In due time he checked over all these tubs of pennies and was to find many worth much more than their face value.

In the fall, Leo and my mother went south for the winter. I remained in Cambridge with my Uncle who lived next door to the kite decorator, Betty Gates.

During the winter Betty and I would walk out to the like to skate on the ice. We would always skate over to the island to see Penny and is Sister. He seemed to be very busy working on some mysterious project in his workshop. We know better than to ask what it was.

One beautiful day in the spring, Leo and I were down on the lakeshore. We could see Penny rowing his boat across the bay and towing another boat behind it. He pulled up to our pier. The boat he was towing was one of the most beautiful boats I'd ever seen. On one side of the bow was lettered, "Hi-Lee Cottage," and on the other side, "Beany Lee."

Penny was not a person for long speeches. He turned to Leo and spoke.

"I built this boat this winter for Beany. I've taught him all I know about ho to catch the largest fish in Ripley. I sort of figured he needed a new boat."

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