Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Coincidence of Opal (??)

They never got me the rock polisher. I have no room to complain though because one year I got a microscope, which I used to look at my own scabs more often than the slides that came with it, and one year they got me a small organ. Not an organ from a body, which would have been equally as exciting, but a little organ that sat on my lap that I could pick out songs on if I tried hard enough to remember the tunes. I had wanted those things as badly as the rock polisher. I'd circled their pictures in the Wish Book as soon as it arrived around Halloween and hoped for two months to find them under the Christmas tree.

I wanted the rock polisher because I believed that all stones were secretly jewels waiting to be polished. I thought if I could collect gravel from the driveway and pebbles from puddles that I could put them in the rock polisher, tumble them around and they'd come out as diamonds, which I could then give to my mother the next time I got to visit her. Sometimes, if it had been a while since I'd seen her, I'd try to picture her face in my mind, but I could never get the features exactly right, though I always remembered her hair and her accessories. She wore strands of gold necklaces; several at a time. She liked rings. She'd given me a tiny gold band with a green stone and when I'd outgrown that one she gave me another I'd liked better with a frosty purplish stone. I knew she liked jewelry, things that glinted and glittered, color, gold. I knew she'd love the gems I made with the rock polisher, except my father and grandparents never got me one.

I started a rock collection. It was inspired by the gift shop at the Luray Caverns on a trip to Virginia I took with my grandparents. They'd let me pick out some of the pretty rocks they had for sale in bins. I chose fool's gold, which I could easily pretend was real gold when I played. I got a lot of wear out of that fool's gold. I panned for it in the swimming pool, carried it on my imaginary covered wagon when I played that I was a pioneer and I used it as parts of various treasures in some of my other scenarios.

Along with the fool's gold, I kept chunks of quartz, feldspar and jasper (all bought in the gift shop too) in a tin can with scenes from the movie "Snow White" on it. We'd gotten the can at Disney World and it had come filled with root beer flavored hard candies. I liked the can filled with rocks better. 

Rocks in gift shops are much prettier than rocks in the wild. I'd dig and hunt in the creek behind my best friend's house, in newly plowed fields and at the bay's muddy shoreline looking for stones to collect, but they all lacked the flash and shine I sought. Their dull dustiness disappointed me. Perhaps if I'd had the rock polisher, I thought, I'd be able to reveal the true beauty of the stones surrounding me.

On a school trip, we visited the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and I immediately decided that I wanted to live there. In the museum, I mean, not just in the city. Not only did the Museum of Natural History have a gift shop full of beautiful rocks, it had an entire wing devoted to minerals, gems and rocks of every kind even rocks that had fallen to Earth from space. I could have stayed in there forever staring at all the crystals, jewels and stones and wanting to pop every polished gem in my mouth because they reminded me of hard candies. I associated each color with a flavor: cherry cough syrup garnets, lime Jell-o emeralds, bubblegum pink sapphires, toffee tiger's eyes, honey topaz. I spent my allowance that week on a chunk of amethyst in the gift shop and once I got home I licked it but it didn't taste at all like purple popsicles.


My mother's mother had an oval, Wedgewood blue jewelry box and when I went to see her, I'd ask her to show me her jewelry. The grandmother I lived with also had a jewelry box and in it were two treasures - a purple pearl my grandfather had found in an oyster and a piece of amber with a bug in it. While these were wonderful things, my mother's mother had better stuff in her box. First, she had something she called a bellybutton jewel, which was exactly what it sounds like - a jewel you stick in your bellybutton and apparently it was part of a bellydancer's costume. How my grandmother came to have something like this I still don't know. It was red as a Luden's and faceted. One side was sticky, I guess so it would stay in your bellybutton better once you put it in. I begged her to leave it to me in her will, and as she is still alive I don't know if she did, but I'm still hoping. In the Wedgewood box were also bars of silver with scorpions engraved upon them. My grandmother collected silver, thinking it was an investment. She also had flat discs of black onyx. They reminded me oddly of cats somehow in their sleekness and these were one of the few stones with which I couldn't associate a flavor. The other flavorless stone was an opal. My grandmother had several pieces of opal jewelry including a big opal ring and a gold chain with an opal pendant. My mother had one exactly like it.


I loved those opals and how they reminded me of the sky or of oil spilled from boat engines swirled on the opaque surface of the bay. Blackbirds too, possess this same mysterious iridescence when the light hits their wings at the right angle. Impossible opals. What made them glow? How could they be all colors at once? I revered opals above all other stones and decided that when I grew up I'd wear an opal engagement ring and an opal tiara. I wrote stories and poems in which I compared a lot of things to opals and I wondered why they weren't more popular.


I never see people wearing opals anymore. I guess they were stylish in the 70s and fell out of favor. My mother doesn't have her opal necklace anymore, just as I no longer have the Snow White can holding my rock collection. I never got the rock polisher, but it doesn't matter now because that would have been gone too and I never would have been able to polish a stone that could compare to the opals that still rest inside the Wedgewood jewelry box in my mother's mother's bedroom.


This post was my response to this week's Indie Ink Writing Challenge in which Miss Ash asked me to tell her a story about The Coincidence of Opal. I admit I had a hard time with that one, so I just decided to focus on my childhood love of all things mineral. Let's hope that Melissa does a better job with my challenge where I asked her to describe someone she knew through what other people say about that person.

13 comments:

Head Ant said...

I used to have an opal and garnet ring with a matching necklace and earrings.

Black onyx should taste like licorice. I'm sure there is a Jelly Belly flavor to compare an opal to.

AutumnRose said...

I was told by my grandmother , that a person didn't wear opals unless it was their birthstone--otherwise, it's unlucky. (A bit of folklore from 'round these here parts :-)

melissa said...

fabulous! i never had an opal...bad luck if it's not your birthstone!!
i'm working on my piece, having a bad week this week. it'll be up soon-ish!!

Shannon Culver said...

I love the sentence,"It was red as a Luden's and faceted."
Fabulously, secretly (you have to know what a Luden's is!), evocative.

Kerry said...

This brings up memories- I loved stones as a kid, too. Actually still have some... little ones. I had opal earrings, too.

Pretty shiny things.

Random Girl said...

You did a great job with a challenge that would have for sure stumped me. Enjoyed your take on it quite a bit, good story telling and detail.

Robin said...

I live in Southern Oregon and I see people wearing opals all the time. I especially a fan of fire opals.

green said...

My birthstone is opal. When my parents went to China they spent two days in Hong Kong and got me opal earrings and an opal ring. They're beautiful, and I understand why you like them so much. I do too. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful essay, thank you for sharing.

L.

melissa said...

ok, it's up. it was tough to write in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

Black opals make me breath funny. A black 'harlequin' opal with the right amount of flash can give me the vapours.

Alexandrite. Changes colour depending on the lighting. Very beautiful and mysterious.

*So many beautiful stones, never enough cash*

- Maureen

Teacup said...

Please don't feel bad about not getting a rock polisher. My daughter wanted one and we got it for her for Christmas one year. We got it from Sears and it cost $35, so it wasn't a toy.
Well, we turned it on and it sounded like a lawn mower running in our kitchen. We read the directions and it said that the polisher had to run constantly for 3 weeks to polish the stone and get results! We returned it and my daughter was glad.

Marian said...

i love this piece, the flow of your writing is wonderful. i feel like i know your childhood. phrases like "wish book" and "red like a luden's" are so concrete. excellent piece!

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