Rock Collecting Hurts in the San Bernardino Mountains
Dad & Jimmy at about the time of the story.
Rock Collecting Hurts © Scott Adie 2012
Rock collecting hurts. It's not the kind of pain you can endure too many times with some serious side effects. Actually, the effects of collecting just one simple, unlovely and largely unwanted rock have been with me since about age 14. I found my ordinary, simple and unlovely rock at a campground near a place in the San Bernardino Mountains called Crestline. My rock suddenly appeared as if by magic, with great speed and impact.
Actually, in fairness to him, I have to tell you that my little brother Jimmy found it first. Jimmy is the competitive one, the third of five children, born four years behind me. As a child, in everything he did he felt driven to finish first. Challenge him to a shoe tying contest and you're going to get beat, first time, every time. Skate boarding, 60's style, he could run rings around me. Wheel standing a banana seat 20” bicycle, he could go a hundred yards before I could cover twenty-five. I couldn't outrun him, couldn't out jump him, couldn't out wrestle him and couldn't do anything that required athletic ability better than Jimmy. Especially rock collecting, which of course requires tremendous athletic ability.
It all started innocently enough. Down by the creek, a small ditch of water actually, we were splashing each other and generally getting muddy and wet just like our mother wanted us to. We were camping with another family and their folks wanted them to get muddy and wet too. So everyone was happy because the mud was flying everywhere. Laughter and screaming broke the silence of an early Saturday morning as though a fighter jet had just broken the sound barrier over the camp. Parents loved screaming kids and we knew it. We screamed back and forth at the top of our lungs just to make sure mom and dad were really happy. But, there was a problem.
Our mud balls had too much sand in them and wouldn't stick together. They'd explode in mid-air, only making a light splatter on your enemy if they even made it that far. The impact was like throwing cooked string beans. No matter how they were compacted, we had to get real close to score a serious hit. That was risky. Jimmy got me good a couple times while I was scooping up more ammo. That gave me an idea. He was going to have to reload too. Next time he bent down to scoop up a handful of mud I'd be ready. I'd only have a second to work my plan. Jimmy bent over to get more mud. As fast as I could, I pulled up a clump of grass which to my surprise, came up with a fairly good sized mud ball attached. As Jimmy stood up to fire another volley, I let him have it. With all my might, I swung my grass bomb around furiously and smacked the little sucker right in the chest with it. The battlefield tactics changed immediately. The war escalated into a grass with mud ball conflict with no end in sight.
Getting the upper hand on Jimmy always meant that in moments, the rolls would be reversed. Suddenly mud balls were not sufficient. Rocks became the weapon of choice. This was war. Everybody scattered when they saw Jimmy with a rock in his hand. He could throw a rock the size of a basket ball, into a Coke bottle at a thousand yards. That was a quality about Jim that only a father could love. By the time he had cocked his arm to throw, I was safely hiding behind a tree about a thousand-and-one yards away. I was safe. Surely at this range, he would have to throw his personal best to even come close. Of course being a major tactical genius, I knew I could not afford to lose track of where he was. If I were to look from behind the tree, for just a split second, surely I could track his every move and stay safely out of harm's way. This move would prove to be a major tactical blunder.
All I remember was the crunch of the impact then my immediate passing from daylight into darkness. Who knew that at a thousand-and-one yards, Jimmy could pinpoint his target with such precision timing and accuracy? I surely never suspected it. His personal best had been achieved. Minutes later, I heard voices off in the distance, muttering incomprehensible things. Who is trying to stand me up, I don't want to get up. I feel sick to my stomach, my ears are ringing and everything is gray and out of focus. There is a warm ooze leaking from my head. What is that stuff? It's running down my back. Put me down, put me down. Don't make me walk. Score! A direct hit from Jimmy, I had begun my rock collecting in heroic fashion.
A shaved head, eleven or twelve loosely placed stitches and a lot of pain later, we were back in the car returning to camp from a local veterinarian's office. He came in on Saturday to reinstall my brains. As we were driving out of camp, I remember feeling sorry for Jimmy carrying a twenty pound rock around the dirt loop on the end of the road we were camping on. He didn't really mean to hurt me dad. He just got too excited. You're only going to make him madder at me dad. But dad had a job to do and Jimmy needed to learn something about rock collecting.
On the way back to camp, head shaved and wrapped like a mummy from the nose up, I remember thinking; 'boy am I going to be a hero with this wound. I survived a major combat mission fought under the most adverse of conditions'. Then my heart sank all the way to my feet. As we pulled into our campground, there was Jimmy, still walking the treacherous loop carrying that big rock. He had started his collection too. He was exhausted and soaked in sweat but he was also one to take his punishment with full awareness and resolve to prove he could handle himself properly. He stopped walking, arms now dangling at their full reach still holding the rock. Dad opened the car door. He asked Jimmy if he had learned anything and Jimmy said yes, not to throw rocks. There was pain on dad's face that told of a heart of regret for the discipline necessary to teach his son the right thing to do. Jim's face was covered in sweaty dust with a few tears mingled in for good effect. The lesson was sufficient for all of us.
School started on Monday, two days from now. I was either going to look really stupid or be a hero. I had to come up with a good story so the hero would prevail. Turns out that the truth was better than anything I could have made up. Everybody listened intently as a recited my story over and over that day. I wasn't used to such attention and I loved it. Not enough to take another rock in the head but I loved it a lot.
Well, dad's gone home to live with Jesus now and I'm sure Jesus told him that this was a great lesson for all of us. Jim and I always have loved and respected each other and Jesus binds all good things together. He's still competitive but now, it's Cribbage, golf and a little bowling on top of his work. I am retired and writing silly stories about my past. We both still collect rocks and rock collecting still hurts… when you drop one on your foot.