There is a rock in my mother’s car. To be fair, it’s a special rock. We know this because my uncle, Jim, who found the rock in one of the fields at the family farm, told us; and a guy at a flea market told him and that’s how you have to cite information in a college essay. At our family reunion last week, Uncle Jim held a contest to see if anyone could guess why this particular rock was special. The winner got the rock.
We all wrote our guesses on slips of paper and put them into a box that Jim would draw from. I thought it was used to sharpen arrow heads. One cousin thought it was a hat. Another cousin thought that the rock was just a rock and possibly the center piece in Jim’s twisted game to convince us that the world has meaning. My cousin has all the optimism I’ve come to expect from a high school sophomore. My mother guessed that it was an ancient bowling ball used by the first generation of Hebbert pioneers. It’s a good guess as that farm has been in my family for over a century and I’m sure my ancestors were just as goofy as the present day generation.
No one got it right the first round so Uncle Jim gave us a hint. The rock had something to do with the last 500 years of history. Five hundred years is a long time. The United States of America was only founded 238 years ago. Five hundred years ago, Henry VIII had only had one wife. So somewhere between a dude making up a new religion so that he could get divorced (and then saying “forget it, I’ll just kill the next one”) and me moon walking away from any sort of commuted relationship, this rock had it’s time to shine.
Uncle Jim is a very tall, very quiet man. If he were theatrically inclined, I would cast him as the foreboding mountain ranger who warns teenage protagonists not to “mess ‘round up in that there Indian burial site”. Yet, he explained the history of this rock with the same enthusiasm I’ve only heard from his mouth when talking about bird watching, the Chicago Cubs and pie. That is to say; moderate enthusiasm.
Apparently, sometime between Copernicus postulating the sun as the center of the universe and Thor: The Dark World, horses were introduced to the American continent. This rock was used by Native Americans (Either Lakota, Sioux or Arikara, according to Wikipedia) to hobble their horses so that they couldn’t run away. Interesting, fun, good family bonding.
Until my mother started carrying it out to the car.
“Why are we bringing the rock with us?” I asked.
“I won it,” Mom said. She got the closest, after the hint. She knew what a hobble was called.
“But why are we taking it?” That rock had sat in a field for over two hundred years and as far as I was concerned it could stay there.
“I could use it.”
“For what? We don’t have a horse to hobble!”
“I’ll plant a flower by it.”
“As a memorial to hobbled horses?” My voice gets shrill when I am incredulous. I take a breath to calm myself. The rock should not have surprised me. My mother is a carrier. Her purse is a carpet bag with several notebooks, wallets, pens, tissues and various loose pieces of paper that could also hold her 15” laptop. She has two wallets for copious membership cards at stores she goes to once a year. For this reunion, she purchased and carried a full cylinder of lemonade mix because South Dakota, in her mind, has no grocery stores. When we were younger, she would bring empty cat litter buckets across Nebraska and give them to my aunt and uncle. Now she carries special black coffee that is apparently the best and unavailable in the Midwest. In another life, my mother was a rum runner.
“I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen to that rock,” I said. “You are going to forget about it in the trunk for two weeks until it bounces on some pothole and then Dad is going to bring it onto the porch where it will collect dust for ten years.”
“No,” Mom said and shook her head.
“Rocks should stay outside,” I said. Unless they’re serving a useful purpose like building pizza ovens or protecting anthropomorphic pigs, they should just stay where they are. Maybe if you’ve got to build a house or clear a path you can move them but even then I am suspicious.
“What’s up?” Dad asked as he made his way to the car.
“Mom’s bringing the rock with us,” I said, “Across state lines.” If this rock were an abducted child or a murder victim, my mother would be making this a federal matter.
My father made a face but said nothing. In 37 years of marriage, he’s developed a sense of self preservation.
“Fine,” I said. When I am irked, or happy or bored or slightly hungry, I fall into the refuge of sarcasm. “We’ll bring the rock. It’ll be great. We can put it on the table and invite people over:
Have you seen our rock? It’s from South Dakota because Colorado doesn’t have rocks. It’s the best rock because Indians used it. A man in a flea market told our uncle.”
“Yes,” My mother agreed, getting into the driver’s seat. My father got into the passenger’s front seat and I got into the back.
My sister was already there. She’d remained silent through this exchange other than asking me “what do you care? It’s not your rock.”
I didn’t care. I forced all the caring about whether my mother wanted to drag a rock across the country down into the pit of my stomach were I put all of my irritation. It doesn’t matter if there is a rock sitting on my parent’s porch for the rest of eternity. I am going to L.A. in two weeks. I don’t need to worry about it.
“I think we should take the rock with us when we drive out to California,” I said, as we turned down the long drive way of our ancestral home, “so it can see Utah, and the ocean.”
“No,” My mother said, “that would be too much.”
Edit: Now that we are home, my mother has hidden the rock somewhere on their property. I guess for future family reunions.