Getting rid of the clutter
#2724 Created 06/07/2009 Updated 06/07/2009
One bit of surviving lore about Grandfather Ralph Du Be' and his Gold Mines was "the nugget." Perhaps one of my siblings has a more precise version of the story, which I remember hearing from one of them, or from Aunt Len, or from Mom or Dad, or sombody.
Grandpa Ralph was a miner, possessed of gold fever caused by a lucky strike when he was a young man, and cursed by a 60-year career chasing gold in Colorado. The luck never returned, and his family lived in relative poverty on Denver's west side while the five kids grew to adults.
Ralph finally grew old, and became frail. After his big heart attack, after he and his associates had stopped mining, after the last leasees of the Gem & Shamrock mines had wandered away, faithful daughter Len drove him back up to the mines in his beloved 1950 Willys 'Jeep' for one last visit. A looooong trip in the Jeep, from Denver to Aspen. (My brother Mike and I shared use of the jeep during our college days in the '60s and '70s, and you could hit 43 mph under perfect conditions, tailwind, and downhill.) Looooong trip. With Len, who could be difficult at times.
Once onsite at the mines, up in Little Annie Basin, Ralph wandered out onto the large waste pile at the Gem (oh, all right, I'm speculating here. "Probably" the Gem, OK?), stopped midway and bent over, and straightened up holding a significant gold nugget -- "as big as your thumb" -- on a rock.
"God Damnit," she said that he said, somebody said, "we should have turned left instead of right when we hit the Spar." (Oh, there's a long story here, more than you want to know, but you can have it all at Rocky Mountain Ghost Mines).
Times were tough for the DuBe's in those years, and I remember thinking that the little gold find probably came in handy. I certainly knew that it wasn't in the can of special rocks that Ralph kept in the garage. That set included some nice pieces of lead, some mineral samples from various mining districts around Colorado, a piece of Gypsum, and some unrecognizable bits. There were also a few gold samples, microscopic beads of gold on orindary-looking rocks that had been "sweated" in an assay oven, and a small vial of panning sand with a few microscopic gleams of gold under a bright light. Barely cute, and virtually worthless.
But no nugget. We discovered, that hot summer in the '80s, after the last of the aunts died, when we took the house apart and had the garage sale, that several of the Ralph's children had rock collections, too. We found various cans around in the adjacent houses on Galapago Street. Joan kept "souvineer" rocks from places she visited, and wrote their origins on them with a pencil. Cute little pebbles labled "Ft. Morgan", "Fairbault", "Quebec." There was even one labeled "Back yard." Ray kept a small pile of pebbles in his dresser drawer, unlabeled, undistinguished grey stones, long since lost in the rock jar, probably from Europe and WWII (not to be confused with his kidney or gall stones, which he kept in the same drawer. Curious.) Jean had a couple of rock-shop rocks, a beautiful spearpoint quartz cluster that vanished shortly after she died, a pair of rock-salt sculptures grown on copper wires, and a brown agate paperweight.
Lots of tin cans turned eventually into 1.) a small collection of Ralph's mining artifacts, and 2.) a loose shoe-box of colorful but boring stones and pebbles. The shoe-box was a bad choice (rock beats cardboard), the collection eventually got poured into a heavy-glass vacuum bell-jar (a gift from Commander Dr. Professor Richard and Mrs. Dr. Professor Leslie Gertsch), which has had a place of honor holding up the geologic and mining maps of Alma (a favorite trespassing locale).
Hanging on to mementos from dead relatives is kind of a sickness, some say. With that in mind, I decided last night that enough was enough. I'd kept those "colorful but boring stones and pebbles" long enough, they weren't treasured family possessions, they are just rocks, OK? Perhaps I should pour them onto the rock garden by the front door, as the first step toward their ultimate fate of returning anonymously to the Earth from which they came.
But, ever the Virgo and always safety first, I decided to have one last look through the jar to see what was there, for about the tenth time.
You got it.
I found the nugget.
In the very act of liberating myself from the scourge of the past, I am thrust once again upon the hard shoals of "Good thing I didn't throw that away."
Photos attached, of course.
Mixed in with the "colorful but boring stones and pebbles" were a couple of pieces of Fools Gold, typical hunks of Iron Pyrite occurring in Pikes Peak Granite or in some of that nice, smooth Silverplume Granite that people like for headstones.
But one of them didn't look quite right. Not exactly the right color, a shapeless character to the pyrite crystals. I had always assumed that it was just another piece of Fools Gold, of which I have a significant collection (being, of course, a Significant Fool).
I turned up the lamp, pulled out a magnfying glass, bent low. Under magnification, the metal seemed shiney, but no obvious crystal structure. So I pushed on it with the tip of a letter opener.
The metal bent easily, leaving a smooth groove in the surface.
It was gold!
"As big as your thumb," she said. Aunt Lentilla, the largest of the three massive Aunts who lived forever in that dark house in Denver, the eldest sister. In my mind I can see her sticking her thumb up from her overturned fist, thrusting her fingerprint toward my face. "As big as your thumb."
The rock is 44 grams, measures 1.5 inches long, and is a one-inch triangle in cross section. One triangular face is a thin layer of pink feldspar (the pink part of Pike's Peak Granite) and white quartz crystals. Gold and lead have crystalized on most of that surface, 1/8" thick in some spots, microscopically thin in others. By volume, the metals probably account for 1/12 of the rock's volume, and perhaps 20% of it's weight, or about 8.8 grams. (Yup. Just guessin.)
The rock was probably worth about $10 when Ralph found it, sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. He died in 1966. Today, if it was pure gold, it's gold value might be as high as $75, (if one could separate it from the rock, remove the lead and iron and copper, convert it to an assayed value, and find a buyer).
But to Ralph, after all the years and money and back-breaking labor that when into that (extremely explicit explicative deleted) hole in the mountain, finding a gold nugget ("as big as your thumb") glittering in the sunlight must have been a very bittersweet experience.
As was my finding it among the rocks I was about to toss.
You see my problem, eh?
I really am going to throw those rocks out. Really. Soon.
(After I have another look through the jar.)