The Rock Gene

"We are shaped and fashioned by what we love." Johann von Goethe

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was inevitable that I would spend all my life working with and writing about gemstones and jewelry. If there is a rock gene, I have it. Probably on every chromosome. I’ve been putting rocks in my pockets as long as I’ve had pockets to put them in. Some of the rocks on my window sills have been with me since third grade. There’s the rose quartz from Cranbrook Science Museum, with its unforgettable fluorescence exhibit of ugly daytime rocks that glowed in the dark. I have a limb cast filled with quartz crystals. The boy who sat next to me in third grade gave it to me when I told him how pretty it was after “show and tell.” (It’s sad to think that although this rock has sat on windowsills and desks ever since, I don’t remember his name.) I have a quartz crystal half encased in what looks like cement that I found in the vacant lot across the street from our house.

The decision makers at my dad’s companies would have fainted had they known how many boxes of rocks they paid coast-to-coast cartage on. My dad would have fainted, too, had he known. Although I didn’t know about genes at the time, instinctively I knew my dad didn’t have this one, and would not have shared my estimation of the rocks’ importance.

Except for my father, though, the rock gene runs like a gem-tree kudzu vine along my paternal line. A couple cousins also decorate with rocks. One of them once shipped a couple (large) rocks from her parents’ farm in Tennessee to my front porch in Oregon. (Heaven only knows how many she carted home for herself.) My father’s sister requested I bring her stones from every place I visited in Greece. I brought some home for me, too.

It’s a miracle I managed to save any rocks from my childhood. Once, when my paternal grandmother came to visit, as a love gift I offered her a rock from my rock collection. She took them all. The trauma of it still requires therapy.

I must make clear that the rocks in my collection are, for the most part, not gemstones or fine minerals. They’re rocks. Rocks with mixed mongrel pedigrees that, for some reason—whether color, pattern, size, texture, or shape—made their way into my pocket.

I’ve picked up stones in Japan, Greece, Turkey, England, Michigan, Canada, Brazil, and Italy from the top of Mt. Vesuvius. I have rocks from the Namib Desert and the Grand Tetons. I have the gold I panned at Knott’s Berry Farm. I have fossils from Fossil, Oregon. I cannot go to the beach without coming home with sandy pockets of rocks. I even buy rocks from souvenir stands. (Goldstone? Apache tears, anyone?) Friends give me rocks for gifts. I appreciate them.

My nephew, however, does not.

One Christmas, when he was about seven, as part of his Christmas package, I sent him one of those healy-feely gift store stones, the ones sandblasted with symbols or inspirational words. This one had his zodiac sign cut into it. All kids like rocks, right? And how cool is it to have one with your own star sign emblazoned on it? I certainly never had a rock like that. Not because I didn’t covet one.

My brother reported that, when my nephew opened the package, he turned the stone over in his hand a few times and said, “A rock? She got me a rock?”

I’m quite sure we share no genetic material.