Senior Musings April 2012

Posted 04.10.11



Although Air Canada attached "Heavy Baggage" tags to our luggage when we returned from three weeks in the west, the cab driver groaned as he lifted our suitcases into his trunk. "What've you got in here, lady," he asked, "rocks?"

I hate to lie, so I ignored his question.

And who could possibly understand why I'd gathered golden layers of shale from the Icefield Parkway, lumps of basalt from Bridal Veil Falls, or deep red sandstone from Jasper?

While other visitors to Calgary were buying items bearing the logo of the 88 Olympics, I spent $2 on raw slabs of jade and $3 on a gypsum rose. Other women talked their husbands into stopping at the jewelry store; mine learned long ago that my favorite place to shop is a natural history or science museum.

Several times, he parked beside the road and waited patiently for me to retrieve a sample of aggregate shot with shiny mica, or to fill my pockets with tiny pebbles of creamy calcite.

How did all this begin? My mother admits she might be at fault, for indulging me when I returned from the beach one summer with a canvas bag full of stones.

I was eight or nine, and she assumed, having seen my two older sisters safely through pre-adolescence, that I'd outgrow the collecting habit as they did.

When the assorted rocks adorned my high school bedroom and then followed me to university, both she and my sisters tried to divert my interest into more suitable collections. I maintain, to this day, an assortment of butterfly pins and racks of souvenir coffee spoons, but I haven't given up my rocks.

Collecting objects that are either "useful" or have some intrinsic value has always been condoned by society. If you amass cabinets full of figurines, china plates, stamps, coins, or rare books, there is an assumption that these items will increase in value and are therefore a good investment. Similarly, as long as my butterfly pins can be worn as jewelry or my coffee spoons used by visitors when we entertain, they are acceptable.

Even the many shells I've accumulated from years of living on the ocean can be put to use. Small shells can be made into jewelry, while larger ones can hold plants or candles, or used for ashtrays, soap dishes, or paper clip containers.

But what can you do with rocks? A few of the largest specimens make unwieldy doorstops, but just how many paperweights do you think one household can use?

Some, of course, are attractive conversation pieces: the nuggets of raw amethyst and shiny cubes of pyrite, the sparkling quartz cavern inside the geode -- these are logical adornments for a coffee table. But the antique blue glass bowl filled with lace agates in several colors and tumbled pebbles whose origins I have long forgotten? Or the shards of slate, piece of petrified wood, obsidian arrowhead, and lumps of volcanic lava which sit among the silver vases and crystal bowls in my dining room?

My ex-husband made concessions to my eccentricity. When we cut down a huge poplar tree in the back yard and didn't know what do with the stump, he agreed to cover it with earth and black plastic to create a rock garden.

Indoors, he reinforced the living room bay window so that the plants that thrive there can sit on humidity trays filled with interesting stones.

But it does get embarrassing. I still blush when visitors ask about the geode.

It was many years ago, when my parents joined a motorhome caravan to Mexico. When one of the other men suggested a side trip to go rock-hounding, my father immediately thought of my collection and agreed.

Pick in hand, guided by his friend, he unearthed a cracked geode, a large, irregular blob of copper aggregate, and some lovely agate slabs in shades from mustard to chocolate.

The first stop on their return was at my older sister's, where their youngest grandchild, David, who was then about twelve, noticed the rocks and asked if he could have them.

Daddy was aghast. "Oh no!" he said, "those are for Bobbi."

David is married now, and has probably forgotten all about the rocks from Mexico. My parents welcomed several great-grandchildren, whose collections include coins, stickers, and teddy bears. We don't intend to tell them that there's a strange aunt in the family who collects rocks.

Unless, of course, one of makes the mistake of asking for the special piece of topaz quartz my dad got from a friend. He traded, he told me, two almost- new bicycle tires for it.

I put it beside that mottled grey rock I picked up in Dinosaur Park at the Calgary Zoo. My husband had insisted it was just concrete, made to look like prehistoric lava, but I brought it home anyway.

It was in the grey suitcase, I think, the one that had to have the handle repaired.


Rocks is one of 34 first-person stories in Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. Barbara Florio Graham served as Managing Editor for this acclaimed collection published by Bridgeross (www.Bridgeross.com). Her popular website is www.SimonTeakettle.com.

Copyright © 2012 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.12