We’re walking along an urban pocket beach on the north side of Chicago. Lake Michigan is large and cool behind us when I really notice the stones. If the boy’s mother were here, she would beachcomb for the one — a souvenir of this place. I try to emulate her expertise, failing miserably as I pick up one flawed stone after another. I then remember her actions: she gathers many and drops the inferior ones as she goes along. It is a constant comparison of one to another, searching for the better.
This is an entry in the lexicon of our lives. It represents a search to make everything better than it was. It might be that which we leave behind — what we make. But it can also refer to our spirits. If I find that one special rock, I will make my spirit better than it was minutes before, and hers in turn.
I could give a showcase piece as a token of out trip to Chicago but nothing — nothing — can take the place of a stone that I find here. It represents her essence, the constant glaneuse: picking berries on the trailside, plucking from trees that bear fruit over the path, finding that one stone on the beach.
There! It is black as coal, polished by the lake, a gentle rhombus. Is it too small? I wonder if the lack of heft adequately demonstrates my pride in finding it or how I imagine she should feel. I worry over it like the engagement diamond that I never sought, my proposal coming abruptly along the quai on another great lake at Rochester, New York, no ring in sight.
It’s been 19 years and some-odd-number-of-days since our wedding — an even or odd number more since our first kiss on a small Ferris wheel at the fair in Boonsboro, Maryland. Chicago reminds me. The Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago.
In that time I’ve at least learned this: she likes to pluck small rocks from the beach. And I will not take that time from her. Despite our differing rhythms, this I will never rush. The boy and I will return from Chicago and she will fuss over the small stone. She will polish it with nose grease. I will suggest a place for safekeeping. One day we will travel together to Chicago again and and she will comb a beach for a stone.
Hers will be better. For that, I love her.