One's rock is another's gem

There was a beauty inside rocks that I discovered early, quite by accident. Walking by a construction site one day, I watched from a safe distance as they blasted. Covering my ears, I waited for the "all clear" whistle to sound before going on my way. But something glittered in the soft prairie dirt. Treasure! Chunks of rocks that before had been round, black, boring stones were opened to expose a glittering inside. I was sure I was onto something big.

I had read books like the Arabian Nights and I knew that riches came from the ground. All through the summer I went to work. I collected rocks and deposited them in my "secret fort," which was neither a secret nor a fort but a small place under the clothesline where the steps and the platform met. I had dragged boards from around the yard and hammered in some old nails to make an impenetrable garrison. One side was left open so I could come and go, depositing my fortune of rocks.

For months I collected them. Broken bits of granite I found at building sites. White gypsum and striped gneiss. I scoured the fields for sandstone, quartz, and feldspar. I longed for obsidian to make myself an arrowhead. I looked for agates in the bigger rocks, using Dad's hammer to break them with the same skill (I thought) as a diamond cutter.

I had gone to the library to learn those things, and rocks were often on my mind. I talked in hushed whispers to my brother, but he laughed at the idea of my treasure. I paid him no heed - he'd be getting no treats from me. I imagined the joy my hard work would bring my family. My mother would never have to work at the awful hospital kitchen again, my father could retire from the railroad. And it would all be because of me.

One day when I figured I had just enough, I sneaked into my fort. To my horror, only a hollow cave met my eyes. I was trembling with tears as I raced inside. My rocks were gone! My fortune!

Mom said she had cleaned it out. Hardly enough room for me in there, she said, let alone those darn rocks; and what was I doing with the hammer, anyway? When she found out, she was in a fury. Didn't I know I could get a rock splinter in my eye?

I found some of the rocks in a nearby field. This time I hid them discreetly: under the bed, near the garage, and in the trunk of the car.

Weeks went by, and soon I had forgotten about my collection. School started up again. And wouldn't you know: We began to study rocks.

One day Mom was asked to drive a carload of us amateur geologists to a site. The local rock quarry proved interesting as we watched how gravel and sand were taken from the earth. But something seemed to be wrong with the car - it didn't have the get up and go for the hills. Mom struggled with it and managed to get us there and back, but once the school was in sight she was afraid to drive any farther. Something was clunking in the back, she was sure, on the corners. We limped into the schoolyard, Mother quite exasperated.

The teacher opened her hood and poked and prodded. Did she have a screwdriver? he asked. Mom opened the trunk to get the toolbox and found the source of her troubles: A load of rocks. The kids gathered around as she turned red. I was done for.

Then one kid chirped: "Hey, isn't that gypsum?" Another kid lifted the pink stone I had gotten when the new clinic was being built and asked, "Isn't this granite?"

One by one my rocks were taken out and examined. The teacher said I had the best collection he had ever seen and the specimens soon found their way into the classroom. Mother could do nothing but smile, as her future geologist beamed all the way home from the back seat.

Years later, I still can be found digging around and collecting rocks. I have discovered agate beds, basalt from volcanoes, and even petrified wood. My treasure grows as does my need to dig in.

But fortunately for my husband, I no longer store them in the trunk of our car.

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