When I was a little kid, maybe five or six or seven (I was old enough to know what a fossil was), I found what I thought was a really cool one. It was gray, and had all sorts of convoluted ridges and divots, and was bilaterally symmetrical (which I would learn in Paleontology class years later). I was sure it had been an amazing sea creature millions of years ago. A great find, and imagine it just lying there on the edge of the street like that (I was not old enough to know that you probably wouldn’t discover a great fossil in the gutter of a city street).
My prize clasped tight in my hand, I ran home, leapt up the stairs leading to our house, banged through the screen door, and crushed my father’s newspaper down into his lap (which definitely got his attention though probably not in the way that would have best served my case).
“What?” he asked.
I uncurled my grubby fist, revealing the fossil. I held it up right under Dad’s nose so he could see it in all its glory.
“Throw that away!” he said. He pushed my hand away, lifted his newspaper, and shook it open to the page he’d been reading. “It’s an old peach pit. Put it in the garbage,” he dismissed me.
I sunk down to the floor in front of his easy chair. I turned my find over and over in my hand. Upon further study it did look kind of like a peach pit. A really old one, but not millions of years old.
My father’s newspaper rustled and he looked over it at me. “Scram!” he said. “And wash your hands after you throw that thing away.”
I tiptoed up the stairs to the room I shared with my sister. I sat on the edge of my bed, re-examining what had seemed such a treasure. I still thought it looked neat and wondered if I put it back where I found it would it eventually be a fossil? Probably not. I was pretty sure you couldn’t plant a fossil from a seed (peach pits were seeds, right?). Besides, Dad told me to throw it away.
I trudged down the hall to the bathroom, wrapped the non-fossil in a wad of toilet paper, and deposited it in the garbage pail under the sink. “Peach pit,” I said. Excitement turned to disappointment in two words.
Don’t ever get a fossil wrong again, I said to myself.
But I did. Get other fossils wrong, that is, but not too many and not that badly. And maybe that stone fruit is one of the reasons I went on to study real stones and to learn the stories they tell.
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