Last night my roommate and I discovered that as kids we were both obsessed with rock collecting. Rarely do you meet someone else whose idea of an extraordinary birthday present is a rock-tumbler and a year's supply of polishing grit. Hard to believe, I know. I really was obsessed though. My parents would take me to the gem and mineral supply store and I would use my allowance to buy huge bags of rough rocks ready to put in the tumbler...usually agates of one sort or another. Never did I spend my allowance on magazines or lipgloss, always on big bags of rocks. When I couldn't afford the preselected bags of agates, that was OK, because I ALWAYS had pockets full of rocks that I picked up everywhere we went. No family walk was complete without me asking my dad every two seconds..."what's this one?" Usually his answer was "ES, that's asphalt, for god's sake."
Once the rocks were smooth and shiny I would either make "jewelry" out of them, or keep them in my "collection." For jewelry, my mom would take me to the local craft store where I would buy cheap settings for beaded jewelry and then I would use my dad's epoxy from his model airplanes and cars to cement the carefully selected piece of agate into the setting. I know all of our neighbors thought I was completely disturbed. Most days I wore my own creations and I always looked like the latchkey kid of a caveman with a huge rock hanging from a chain around my neck.
When the rocks went into the collection, they were carefully sorted by size and color and put into a huge 60 drawer metal hardware organizer my dad had taken all of his nails and screws out of at the behest of my mom so I would have a place to store all my rocks and she would quit ruining vacuum cleaners vacuuming them up. This hardware box must have weighed 50 pounds loaded down with rocks and I carried it everywhere. It went in the car to family dinners. It went to show and tell at school. It went to friend's houses to play. I was the only 10 year old on my block dragging a metal chest, complete with sparks along the sidewalk, to a slumber party. Everyone else just brought their Rainbow Brite dolls and left it at that. We moved 16 or 17 times while I was growing up due to my dad's job, and the one thing that I obsessed over was my rock collection. My grandparents had a friend that owned a gem shop who would send me interesting things once in awhile and I was convinced that my collection would be worth millions some day. I chided the movers to be careful with my fabulous collection the same way my mom did about her prized electric organ.
I still have most of the rocks in storage somewhere, the metal organizer is long gone by now. And I still love rocks, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is probably one of my top 5 favorite places on earth. I even majored in Geology in college for a whole year before I realized that my math-phobia would not work in that field and switched, like millions of other disillusioned college freshmen, to psychology. And I'm convinced that all of this is what led to my obsession with all things sparkly...I can spend hours in jewelry stores just looking around. When I can't sleep I often tune into that show that comes on in the wee hours of the morning where the loose gemstones are on the lazy-susan and they just turn and turn and sparkle...I'm always back to sleep in less than an hour.
And this summer, on the infamous road trip, my best friend and I went to Agate Beach in northern California. Instead of sand the entire beach is made up of beautiful agates that come in with the tide and are polished by the ocean. It's amazing and I defy anyone to stand there and not be in total awe. My family is from northern California so I've spent my fair share of time exploring redwood forests and hiking to the top of Trinidad Rock, and I thought I had seen it all, but Agate Beach was like my entire childhood love of rocks translated into a place. Amazing.