In a family with five children, alone time with a parent is a precious commodity. When I mooned over encyclopedia photos of gorgeously colored mineral specimens and sharp pointed crystals, Dad took me to meetings of the Westchester County Rock and Mineral Society. We listened to the speaker and looked at slides of dramatic specimens, outcrops, and quarries. We went on field trips to find mineral specimens. Sometimes we went with the club, and sometimes we followed directions in a rock-hunter’s guide to sites in the New York area. These were hit or miss.

Beryl specimen from the Yale Museum of Natural History

Poking around the edge of a quarry site in Haddam, Connecticut, we found light green columns of beryl, as big as a finger, embedded in pale pegmatite rock. Half way to grandma’s one year, our search for Herkimer “diamonds” yielded a few small quartz crystals. I was hoping to find something huge and perfectly clear as we scrabbled around in the dirt, but settled for having found something. Franklin, NJ, where we expected to find fluorescent minerals, yielded nothing but a dead end at a gated site with a big Keep Out sign, or was that the time our destination had become a parking lot? In the pre-internet era, guidebooks were our source and if the page led us wrong, there was no way to correct our route. Maps and directions were entertainment, and tramping around outdoors with dad led him to tell his stories like the time he saw a snowy owl while sitting on a stump in the woods waiting for the deer.

A gift from dad after his trip to Brazil, a bracelet of semiprecious stones.

In about sixth grade, my science project was about crystal shapes, and I glued and tied on samples from my rock collection onto my poster, inordinately proud of my work. I continued adding to my collection, a Petosky stone from a pen pal, and amethyst from India. Dad would occasionally add a piece, thinly disguising his secret wish for a scientist daughter (preferably a chemist like him).

Gore Mt., New York, produces a vast quantity of the world’s garnets, and was within field trip distance from our summer home. We toured the mine, goggling at pockets of black rock bigger than a bowling ball filled with gorgeous, deep red garnet. These weren’t individual crystal stones, but solid masses crisscrossed with cracks. I bought a small bag of garnets, not sure what I would do with them, I just wanted to have some.

Pink rhodochrosite, green malachite from my rock tumbler.

For Christmas, I received a rock tumbler. With visions of turning out batches of carefully polished semiprecious stones, I eagerly set up my little humming station in a corner of the shop at the back of our garage. My squat gray machine came with bags of grit that had to be measured and mixed with water and rock. I had a few bags of stones to work with, tigereye, malachite, rhodochrosite, and those garnets. They rumbled for days. The waiting to see my prizes was agony. The day arrived and dad helped me loosen the wingnuts that held the lid on tightly. My little gray canister yielded a slurry of muddy lumps that had to be rinsed outdoors to avoid clogging the pipes. The results weren’t perfect. My batch of stones was more polished than they had been, but lacked the glassy finish of jewels. We began again with different stones, but got the same results. Polishing stones is a hobby that requires tinkering, trying a method, changing the grit, the water, or the stones and then grinding again, repeating the experiment until the results come.

Crystals from long ago.

Never known for my patience, my hobby ebbed, though my rock collection lived on in its boxes in the basement, then the barn, then my own basement until I donated it to the Dupage County rock and mineral group, closing the circle. I still have a few pieces in drawers and boxes, rhodochrosite and malachite partially polished, a fluorite crystal, and my precious memories.