The Rock I Keep
by Ellyn Gibbs
Runestone, volume 2
“This looks like an Ellyn-rock,” said my mother as she held it with an outstretched hand. Like the other rocks, which filled the beach in sand’s absence, the rhythms of lake water and sun had tumbled it smooth. Unlike the others, it was formed into an abstract figure eight, which fit perfectly in my hand. Under a stony gray, it was tinted rose, like the fossil of a sunrise.
“Why?” I asked, as I turned it over in my palm.
Mom said something like she wasn’t sure, as she continued down the beach, her bare feet clinking on more wet stones and one of the brothers tugging at her hip. I rested the rock inside my canvas bag, on top of all the other rocks I’d deemed worthy of adoption on our routine family vacation besides Lake Superior.
Family vacations must have been difficult with four small children, as we never went too far from home. Instead of a long journey, we packed half the house into our faithful Suburban, and drove three-hours to Duluth, Minnesota. We spent most of our time in full civilization on these vacations, exploring attractions like the train museum and the zoo. We clambered over the boulders bordering land and lake to the malt shop, and walked back with sticky fingers and huge cups of chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.
That afternoon, we drove to an empty beach hidden behind the crest of a hill and kept busy looking for treasures. Rock collecting was an esteemed hobby in our family. My brothers could spend hours identifying rocks with their guidebooks, organizing them into piles on the carpet, and trading them like forms of currency. They could pick out basalt and quartz, and announce which ones had volcanic heritage. I often followed the shoreline in search of anything remotely pretty. That was when my mom handed me the Ellyn-rock.
If you’ve ever had a rock named after you, you’ll understand the weight of its meaning. If I had ever thought of naming one, I probably would have named it after Audrey Hepburn or Nellie Bly–someone gorgeous and bold. But my mother chose to name her discovery after me. I wondered why. At the gangly age of thirteen, I walked with a slouch to hide my height and constantly tugged at my clothes, feeling always the weight of imaginary eyes. Now holding the rock, I felt my shoulders straighten, with the subconscious hope that one day I could be gorgeous, and bold, an adventurer with a legacy even greater than the single stone in my hands.
I collected many rocks on that trip. Now, in a constant quest for minimalism, I abandon more and more to the backyard each time I clean my closet. I hate the clutter of tangible objects attached to memories, and prefer to keep only the memories, which don’t tie me down so easily. As I dump rocks into the front garden, I consider how, one day, some geologist will be eternally puzzled as to how those type of rocks ended so far from where science states they should form. When I get to the Ellyn-rock, though, I pick it up and feel its weight in my hand. I run my thumb over the dip in its center and wonder again why my mother named it after me.
There’s no reason why I can’t ask Mom the reason, but I never do. I just place the rock back on its appointed shelf and keep cleaning. Maybe I’m afraid that she’s forgotten it, or that the stone never meant anything to her at all. If I ask, she might say, “Oh, I don’t know, it was just a neat rock and you were standing right there, so I thought I’d give it to you.” I’m afraid of a response like that. I desperately want my namesake rock to mean something, to symbolize how a mother can know her child more than that child knows herself.
In my brain, I’ve created a picture of my mother seeing one stone on the beach that caught her eye against the backdrop of a million others. It was unique and beautiful and rosy gray, and knew its exact purpose there on the Superior shore.
Meanwhile, Mom’s then-only daughter was growing into her own skin, trying to fill too much of the world and yet also not enough. As I wildly tried to mine my identity from caverns of fool’s gold, I shed goals overnight like snake skin. But with the constancy of a foundation, my mother always attributed to me the complexity and beauty and value that all humans have, and very few realize.
Minnesota State University, Mankato
Ellyn Gibbs is a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato and is majoring in mass media with a minor in recreation, parks and leisure services. She currently writes for her college paper The Reporter, and has published articles in Bedlam Magazine and Misadventures Magazine. Ellyn is passionate about writing creative nonfiction pieces that weave philosophical ideas into vivid details of everyday life. She also clings to a slow-paced enjoyment of her craft, which gives her balance in her madcap American lifestyle.