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The Playhouse Rocks

Every so often fortune smiles on each of us. For a rockhound such as myself, 'fortune' has meaning that only a kindred soul can appreciate.

Several years ago my wife and I grew a friendship with Linda. We would sit in the bleachers together for marching band performances where our teenagers played together. The wife and Linda were in the same bunco group so would get together at least once a month. Linda apparently noticed all the rocks scattered around my yard, and being of keen wit, observed that perhaps I had a familiar affliction with someone she had been close to. That person was her father who had passed away several years before.

I don't remember exactly where or when, but Linda and I struck up a conversation about rocks one day. Like a young boy glued to a story of buried treasure, I listened intently while Linda told me about how her father, George, had also been a rockhound and lapidary kook. At one point in his life he even opened a rock shop in Phoenix, fulfilling a dream that many of us only fantasize about. Then she told me about the cache that George left behind.

actual playhouse, actual me

Toward the end of George's full life, he stashed his rock collection in an old playhouse in his backyard. Linda described said playhouse being stacked floor to ceiling with her father's rock collection. Then my heart broke as she said that during his final days he was tossing armloads of his rocks into the garbage can to be hauled away to the landfill to be buried for another few million years. I could only imagine what treasures ol' George tossed so as not to burden his family.

Years went by, and each time we got together with Linda, I wanted to hear about the 'playhouse' rocks and what might still be there. Long after George passed away, the house sat empty while Linda's mother resided in a retirement home. One day we got the call that Linda's mother had passed peacefully. While I was mindful of Linda's grief, I couldn't help wonder what would become of the playhouse rocks.

It wasn't long after that when Linda and her sister were dividing the estate that she asked me if I would like the playhouse rocks.

I have never won the lottery, but I now know a little about what it feels like. What would have been a nuisance to the family (and most normal people,) to me, was like the first Christmas morning a kid remembers. I was ecstatic, and couldn't wait to see what treasures George had squirreled away in that playhouse.

I had no idea what to expect having never actually seen the playhouse, I just knew there would be some old stock lapidary rough that would keep me drooling for years. I was not disappointed.

As described, there it was. Against the back block wall of the yard, a lone playhouse. I made a beeline and stuck my head inside the doorway. Lined against all four walls were wooden cubbies built for organization, each carefully stacked full of stones that had been covered by decades of desert dust. Along the top shelf was a line of rectangle metal baskets full of rounded (unstackable) specimens. Some of the material was identifiable, but much would provide several weekends of discovery while I scrubbed the layers of dirt off. In addition to the rocks, Linda gave me several lapidary saws and a jeweler buffer that had also belonged to her father. I filled all my milk crates and 5-gallon buckets, in three trips to get all the material home.

Here's some of what the playhouse cache contained: several varieties of river agates, several varieties of un-cut geodes, mexican (Berrendo) nodules, beautiful chrysacolla, mahogany and snowflake obsidians, McDermitt picture jasper, Succor Creek jasper, bloodstone, amethyst lace, amazonite, aventurine, petrified wood, large brazilian agates, various pyrite, colorful glass slag, wonderstone, leopard jasper, burro creek agate, confetti agate, plume agate, as well as many other stones I have yet to make a positive identification on.

George kept this sign on his truck

Over subsequent weekends I scrubbed, sorted, and organized the rough and built racks to store it all. Rarely a day goes by that I don't visit my playhouse rocks to inspect and decide what to cut next. The saws are a long term project as I work to re-condition them. The trim saws were under a back patio but the drop saw was out in the elements for probably 10 years or more. All were sufficiently gunked up, and the drop saw will need some serious de-rusting, but that kind of work is my idea of a blissful Arizona weekend.

I still wonder what rocks George threw into the garbage, and maybe someday he'll tell me. I like to think he continues his love of rocks and lapidary hobby from beyond the grave through my hands and eyes.