They are just a pile of rocks. Anytime I am going less than 30mph my speed becomes a mystery. It comes with a story. About a prized piece of petrified wood given to a small boy by his grandfather.
It was the summer of 1986. I was 12 years old and enjoying a month long visit to my grandparents. My favorite thing to do was hang out with my Grandpa. He was always doing something cool in his custom wood shop. While he crafted his latest inventive design I would keep busy. I would put on his welders shield and stare at the sun or grab my own piece of wood and land nail after nail into it.
Other times he and I would sit down and discuss what I most wanted. We would sketch designs for things like wooden rifles, wasp swatters or puzzles made from National Geographic pictures. One day I came to him with a rock I had found that I thought was particularly amazing in its own way. I told him about my other rocks at home. And right there at the kitchen table, on swivel chairs, in their double wide trailer he sketched out a design for a small shelf to display my rocks. Using his giant carpenters pencil from Builders Square he added custom touches and measurements.
All day we hung out in his shop picking out pieces of wood and going from tool to tool. I watched as it slowly took shape. I could hardly wait. Once sanded and stained, he applied a finish that made it glossy and beautiful. As nice as anything you could buy in a store.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but he wanted me to remember him even after he was gone. To always have and look at with loving memories of the day we hung out together in a hot wood shed with all the windows thrown open. He then turned to the window sill closest to him and picked up a small timber shaped rock. It was slick and marbled with wood grain patterns running through it. The rock was from another time. A time when giant Red Oaks stood tall. And then they fell and slowly turned into rock. He had visited Arizona many years back and had seen the great petrified forests. He had brought it back with him. It was like a rare jewel to me. I had always envied it. He turned back to me and sat the rock down on the new shelf. “This is yours now.”
As soon as I got home I took all my rocks and lovingly placed them on the shelves. But the petrified rock was the crown jewel in a space reserved front and center. And there it sat for all middle and high school years. Other rocks joined it. But no rock came close to touching the mystique and beauty of the relic from the time of dinosaurs. In 10th grade he passed away suddenly but the rock and shelf remained. I graduated and moved into my first place all by myself. One of my first tasks was to unpack my rocks onto the shelf. Always ready to show it off to guests when they came over.
As time went on I met my wife and we started a home together. I still would display my rock collection. The shelf helped make our house a warm home. A real piece of furniture in the barren apartment of a young man working for minimum wage filling his apartment with hand me downs. And I still showed off the collection to anyone who inquired. Always making sure to end the rock tour with the prized piece of petrified wood. Then came the kids. All three of them.
It had been 25 years since that day hanging out with my Grandpa in the wood shop. My oldest girl was now 5. She had come to love my rock collection. One day she came home from school very excited. They were studying rocks and their assignment was to bring an unusual rock to class. She went straight for the petrified rock and proclaimed loudly that she wanted to take it to her class. I immediately was hesitant and resistant to the idea. It had always rested on the shelf and I really wasn’t keen on a 5 year old taking it to school and potentially losing or breaking it. All day she would have it in her book bag and there would be lots of opportunity for it to disappear. But I loved how much she adored the same things I did. So I agreed.
That morning I packed it into a zip lock bag and gave her a talk about how important it was to me and how I expected her to remember that throughout her day and keep it safe. She promised. As I watched her get out of the car and navigate the cross walk in front of the school I was happy.
My dad had taught me a lesson I never forgot when I was a kid. If you are going to loan something to someone… don’t expect it back. That way if they didn’t repay a loan or return an item, you were never expecting it back to begin with. Then relationships wouldn’t be ruined. I would ask him to borrow some money for a book and he would open his wallet and say, “I won’t loan you the money, but I will give it to you. And if you repay me that will be great!” That day she gave one look over her shoulder as she pushed the doors open and entered the school. And those words hit me again. If I get the rock back, it will be a bonus. If I don’t get it back it won’t matter.
The entire day I tried not to think about it. I rushed home after work and waited in the drive way for my wife to pull up with the kids. I was anxious to see if she had been responsible. And if she had… was her class impressed with her amazing rock. They pulled up and I could tell from her face she had been crying. My wife also had a look on her face that silently told me to prepare myself for bad news. As she exited the car I asked how it went. I immediately asked if she had lost the rock. She shook her head and pulled the zip lock bag out of her back pack. The petrified rock was in two pieces. What was once one whole smooth rock with no flaws was now two pieces with jagged edges.
I hugged her and asked what had happened. She had kept it safe all day. And while getting into the car to go home it slipped out of her hand and onto the ground. When it met the concrete it split in two. I could tell she felt really bad. And my first feeling was that I had a precious memory that had just been defiled and destroyed. But remembering my father’s words and quickly reassured her it was alright. I felt slightly defeated. But I also amazingly felt at peace with it and didn’t know why. We placed the two rocks back in its place on the wooden shelf.
The next day I picked her up from school and she had a flint rock she had found on the ground at school. She was excited to give it to me to help replace the broken one. I thanked her and put the rock in my dash up by the odometer. For the next week she brought me one rock every day. I quickly gained a small pile of rocks that blocked the lower speeds of the odometer. And then we all moved on. For a year I drove with that pile of rocks in the dash. We never talked about the broken rock.
But something strange happened. I was sitting at a stop light one afternoon a year later and glanced down at the rocks. Those common rocks (and even one piece of broken concrete) became just as precious to me as the petrified wood my grandfather had given me. I was swept back to that hot summer day in the wood shop. I suddenly wished he could have known my daughter. And I realized that he had wanted to know her as well. He wanted to be a part of my life long after he was gone. He wanted his legacy to live on. And the rock that had held so many memories for him, he had entrusted in the hands of a 12 year old boy was a trigger. Suddenly I knew he had accomplished what he wanted to do. He had remained a part of my life long after he was gone. He was with me as I grew up and became a man. He was part of my first home. And now he had been a part of his great grandkids life. I laughed as a remember his bear hugs and scratchy beard. And I laughed as I thought about telling him how his great granddaughter broke his rock.