It all started with a stone. A Petoskey Stone, to be precise.
For all you non-Michiganders, the Petoskey Stone is the official state rock. Michigan is one of the few states that actually has a state rock, and for those of us who have resided there at one time or another, the Petoskey stone is a continual reminder of just how special this mitten-shaped state really is.
Petoskey stones are a valuable commodity, partly because so many have been snatched up by tourists and eager entrepreneurs, and also because they are very difficult to spot. When dry, they look like any other gray rock, but throw some water on them and the mottled net of veins that wrap round the stone magically appear—truly an amazing geological experience.
It’s not as easy as you think.
Northern Michigan is the only place in the world these unique fossils can be found and my stepfather, Pete, has an eagle-eye for spotting them. He walks his six dogs, daily, on the beaches near Point Betsie, where you can find the gems, and he rarely returns home without a pocketful. My mother carefully washes the rocks and then runs them through the tumbler in their garage. The end product is a consistently shiny, lovely stone.
My parents have Petoskey stones piled in large pots on their deck, gathered in water-filled glass vases on the windowsill, artfully displayed on platters on their coffee table and heaped in a clear cookie jar in the guest bathroom. They enjoy handing out their rocks as gifts to visiting out-of-towners who are awed by the stones but don’t want to fork over the big bucks it takes to buy one (no kidding—large stones can sell for as much as $100!).
Pete and my mother, Claudia, are opposed to selling their stones, but have no problem giving them away to their friend, Bob, an entrepreneur, who is not. Bob makes Petoskey stone lamps, picture frames, bird houses, jewelry, animal figures and anything else you could imagine one might make with a rock.
This, my friends, is where my story really begins.
A few summers ago, I visited my mother and Pete in the quaint little town of Frankfort on Michigan’s northwest coast. I was excited not only because I got to visit my parents and their six large special dogs, but also because Frankfort was having its yearly Art Fair/Garage Sale. This year was extraordinary because, in addition to the usual booths of Petoskey stone pictures, Petoskey stone puzzles, and Petoskey stone animals, there was going to be a local author who had self-published three books.
Now, I had just finished writing my first novel and was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to rub shoulders with another writer—especially one who had been published. I left my mom and Pete in Bob’s booth and anxiously searched for the local celebrity.
I found him sitting high on a chair behind a table of neatly stacked books. I casually picked one up, pretended to leaf through it, looked up, and said, somewhat nervously, “I just finished my first one.”
“Congratulations. You read your first book.”
His sarcastic comment threw me off. Normally, I would have chuckled and made some smart-alecky reply, but his unkind tone and my nervousness did not encourage such playfulness.
“Uh, no, I meant writing it.”
“Oh.” He glanced away dispassionately.
I was flabbergasted. How could he not be overcome with curiosity? He was a writer, for Pete’s sake! Wasn’t he the least bit interested in this woman, who had, by the way, spent the last whole year writing? Writing before everyone got up. Writing on my laptop in the car while the boys took tennis or swimming lessons. Writing while the laundry sat in piles or my husband took the kids to Mickey D’s . . . again.
I wanted so badly just to converse with this man that I ignored his rudeness. Maybe we had simply gotten off to a bad start. I tightly clutched the piece of paper on which I had written out the questions I wanted to ask and started over. After the third monosyllabic reply, I finally gave up. My feelings were hurt, I was tremendously disappointed, and I had never felt so strongly that the club I wanted to join was not accepting my kind.
I set the man’s book down slowly and wished him luck. As I made my way back to Bob’s Petoskey Stone booth, I contemplated arson and bodily harm and childishly regretted that I hadn’t made some nasty comment to him, or come up with a devastating put-down, or even said something to the effect that his books looked incredibly boring and amateurish.
But the truth was they had not. I would have bought all three if he had humored me, or even just said good luck. But he hadn’t. He had lost not only a sale, but also the respect of another human being, another writer, who just wanted to share war stories.
Drowning my sorrows . . .
It took me a couple of banana daiquiris and some old Barry Manilow songs to get over my funk, but the will to live did return. I managed to pick myself up, dust myself off, and add those few extra pounds that had always eluded me. I looked for the silver lining or at least a moral to the story and the best I could come up with was don’t judge a rock by its cover.
I bet you thought I was going to say something like “have faith in yourself” or “never lose sight of your dreams” or “don’t give up”. But sometimes you just have to connect with a person, or catch a glimpse of a half-wet rock, or be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.
Lise Marinelli, Author