Q: Peggy, you’ve just completed a big move. What was the last thing you did, right before you left your former home?
Peggy: My flower garden had a rock border. Before I drove away for good, I grabbed a piece of quartz.
Q: You still have this quartz, right?
Q: From what I understand, you’ve also got plenty more. When you look around your living room, what do you see?
Peggy: Fossil from Pennsylvania on my coffee table. Polished rock slab underneath three candles, granite from Mount Ascutney, a Vermont-shaped rock and a piece of quartz with large black clasts, plus a red-colored dragon coming out of its shell, which is made of coal from Wales.
Q: That’s a lot of rocks! Are there others?
Peggy: Also see a “figure with attitude”: a metal figure stuck into a piece of sandstone. My pink marble ashtray; two grey rocks with “smiles” — one my ex-husband sent me this fall and one I’ve had from the coast of Maine for years, almost identical. Round rock with a carved smiling face, with a hole on top into which I’ve stuck a dried flower. Also see a polished, triangular, layered rock with a seagull. And, last, a pink and blue and white painted little rock with “patience” carved into it — a gift from a friend.
Q: The way that you describe rocks is beautiful. Describe another one, please.
Peggy: Another is mostly bluish grey — really pretty color with streaks of red and then some fabulous black blobs poking out, some perfect circles, others sticking up and jagged, some totally flat and merging with the base rock. Looks like it has some hideous disease.
Q: You’ve found most of these rocks yourself, right? Other than the few that were gifts?
Q: Sounds as though you’ve collected them from many different places.
Peggy: I have rocks from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, England, Scotland and Wales.
Q: Where do you store them?
Peggy: Oh, in the storage shed are seventeen containers of rocks. From shoe boxes to paper towels, from boxes I can’t even lift to a handful of treasures found on special times with special people at special places.
Q: How did you start collecting them?
Peggy: In the spring of 1963, my husband-to-be took me to Lubec, Maine, as far up the coast of Maine — as down east — as one could go and to Campobello Island. It’s a national park, actually part of New Brunswick, Canada and connected to Lubec by a bridge, and courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt (I think! — or Theodore?) Anyhow. I was totally entranced by the smooth rocks on the island’s beach.
Q: Share the experience with us. Please.
Peggy: I’d fill pockets in my clothes and my purse with sandy rocks, take off my shoes and fill them with rocks.
Q: And you simply continued to collect rocks over the years?
Q: Any collecting mishaps?
Peggy: My stepmother and I were diving for sand dollars and she almost drowned in her determination to get more.
Q: Wow. What an adventure. Glad that she was okay.
Peggy: Me, too.
Q: If you don’t want to share details, that’s okay. On the other hand, if you don’t mind…
Peggy: Oh, I don’t mind. This would have been in 1974. Drove down to Clearwater with my sons from Illinois, the first time visiting my father since 1953, when I was 10. We went to the beach every night so my sons could bathe, play in the water and shower on the beach. Thrifty people, my father and his wife.
Q: Sound like my grandparents.
Peggy: One evening, Sue, my stepmother, found a sand dollar in water probably just over waist-high, called me over to find them with her. So, we were searching for them in the sand. Either the tide was coming in or we kept wandering further out in an attempt to get as many as we could find until we were about neck-deep in the water. Sue had had two mastectomies, about twenty years apart, had been an Army nurse, and she was a trooper. She didn’t want to stop. It wasn’t easy finding them, of course, out that deep, and then she was suddenly gasping and sputtering, struggling for air.
Q: That must have been traumatic.
Peggy: Well, the next morning, when my father was out getting the mail, she informed me that guests and fish stink after three days. So, I told my father that we had to cut the planned week’s vacation short and head back home.
Q: I see.
Peggy: I just got the box of sand dollars out, by the way, to see what condition they were in, twenty-seven years later, after being moved all over the country. When I lifted up the first layer, I heard a crack and saw that I broke one. Will put them on the dining table and see what I’ve got left that’s still whole.
Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of changes: moves, illnesses, divorces, separations from parents and a near-death experience. While I don’t want to overly psychoanalyze, are rocks the key constant for you in life?
Peggy: That is the most intriguing question I’ve been asked in a very long time, Kelly!
Q: So, what do you think?
Peggy: I think that you’re right. The permanence of the rocks appeals to me. Once I have them in my home, they’re done changing and are, therefore, in a permanent state! But I think it’s more the absolute beauty and uniqueness of the now-final product and correlating that with people and their journeys through life. In a vastly different time frame, of course, we start out as a “grain of sand” and change form and have emotional and mental transformations before we’re a finished product, which would be the day we die.
Peggy: And to finish the correlation, when we’re scooped up, just as I scoop up rocks, this stops any further evolution. Or, at least as far as we know.
Q: You know, while I’m beginning to understand what rocks, as a whole, mean to you, I’m still curious. What makes one particular rock call out?
Peggy: Walking along a beach, staring at all the rocks — yeah, while others are watching the waves and pondering infinity — I see something different: a shiny red rock with black spots, or a black rock with a red slash.
Picking up a single rock, I guess, one that catches my eye in the midst of the hundreds surrounding it, is just something I do automatically and gratefully. When I look at a particular rock, I see something extraordinary. They’re under our feet, part of dirt, nothing that requires our attention unless they’re caused to misbehave.
Q: So, any big regrets?
Peggy: Not labeling the rocks.
Q: What? They aren’t labeled?
Peggy: No. I have rocks from Warwick Castle and they’re unique and pertinent, but I don’t have them labeled. I was so lucky to get through and back to the United States with my twenty-seven disposable cameras in one bag, what seemed like a ton of postcards and folders and books, and my rocks… I came home with thirty pounds more than I left with. Think they all weighed fifty when I left — purse, suitcase and carry-on — eighty when I came back.
Q: Now, come on! That’s funny. I’m trying to picture the look on that check-in person’s face.
Peggy: Yes. Poor woman.
Q: Any other regrets?
Peggy: I wish I’d majored in geology, but then I remember the clerk at the mall bookstore. Geology major. So, I majored in English instead.
Q: Amazing what can influence our life’s choices. And … remind me. This rock collecting all got started how?
Peggy: Maybe it started because I have to watch where I’m going. I’m always looking down or I trip on a bump in the road or whatever. Yeah, then I get a broken rib.
Q: Talking about roads. You’ve moved around quite a bit, but say that you’ve finally found your true home. How did you know?
Peggy: When I saw the rock in the yard, I knew this was my house.
Q: Which rock?
Peggy: My first day here, I found one that was shaped like a heart. I don’t know what it is, Kelly. I love natural things, basic, beautiful things of nature.
Q: How many rocks, because of your recent move, did you leave behind?
Peggy: Never left any rocks behind! I still have rocks from 1963, Campobello Island.
Q: Wasn’t it expensive to move the rocks?
Peggy: I never thought about the expense. Books I sorted through to see what I could part with, but I didn’t have the only book in the world of whatever. I do have the only rock in the world like that. If I missed a book, I always could go find another.
Q: How did you transport them?
Peggy: I took the heavier ones in my car. The small ones got packed. They made great fillers, like paperbacks. Little space here, stick a rock there.
Q: Learn anything from that experience?
Peggy: Sure. I learned that, when I spread the rocks out, they don’t seem as heavy anymore.
This interview originally appeared at http://www.inkburns.com/html/they_re_done_changing.html