Do you remember those rock shops that dotted the American West years ago? When I was a kid, whenever we drove past one of those when we were on vacation, I’d beg and plead to stop. “Mom, can we go in the rock shop? Please? Oh please, Dad?” The shops were all the same: dusty, dimly lit, and crowded with mineral specimens and cabochons and tubs of tumbled stones. I loved to put my hands in those tubs and feel the cool, smooth texture of the polished pebbles.
One summer, I picked up a bunch of smooth stones from the Oregon coast. When they were wet, they were so much shinier than when they dried out, so I kept them in a plastic carton filled with water…until the water reeked.
Then I begged for a rock tumbler, and it turned out our neighbors had one that they gave to me. What a disappointment. It took WEEKS of tumbling and tumbling before even the faintest hint up a sheen showed on the surface of those stones.
There was the library book on birthstones that I renewed over and over again, as many times as was permitted, then grudgingly returned, only to check it out the next time we went to the library. There was my subscription to Rock & Gem magazine. There was the kids’ jewelry-making kit and saving my money to buy poor quality faceted stones.
Recently, I asked my brother if he remembered this phase from my childhood. Here’s his reply:
I remember you told me once that you “ were going to be a Rock Hound” I was super jealous, not because I really liked the rocks as much as you did, but because you were going to “be something” and that seemed really cool.
I’m glad I didn’t grow up to be a model railroader or anything…
Over the past five years, I’ve been excavating these deep childhood desires and learning to follow them. A year or so ago, I started taking silversmithing classes. In my very first class of the very first session, I had the oddest sensation. I felt like I’d been making jewelry my whole life. The tools fit naturally in my hands. The materials responded to my touch, becoming what I envisioned.
My technique still isn’t advanced enough to carry out all that I’d like to do, but I’ve come full circle, back to the little girl who knew she needed something that was hidden away in those dusty rock shops.