I just found this post on one of the crafty blogs I frequent, Inchmark, about collecting rocks with her sons. She talks about how each rock brings back memories of where they found it, and who they were with.
It struck a chord with me, as I had my own Rock Box growing up. In fact, my sisters each had one as well. When my parents would go out of town for their own vacation, or for holidays or sometimes extended weekends, we'd make the trek from the Bay Area Peninsula out to Salinas to stay with our grandparents. In those days, Salinas equated a whole lotta nothin' but farmland and very few houses dotting the landscape, so we had plenty of room to run around. But we also had to be creative in how we entertained ourselves.
We would slide down hills of dried hay on cardboard boxes, climb the big oak trees in the yard, play with the walkie talkies our grandpa let us play with, and periodically venture into his giant woodworking shop carpeted with sawdust and filled with fascinating gadgets and tools, the smell of wood and sawdust pervading the air. Obviously there's always been more boy than girl in my sisters and me, but it was a lot more fun that way.
It was probably one of those times we got bored and wandered into Grandpa's workshop that he told us to go dig in the yard for indian arrowheads. And apparently he wasn't making up that there were some around the area, because shortly thereafter my older sister actually found one. My younger sister and I were jealous of the arrowhead, however we had formed our own piles of pretty rocks we'd found, and had to show these off to Grandpa as well. And my grandpa realized that he could give us a project that would both be time-consuming, entertaining, and fulfilling one of his passions as well - amongst his woodworking tools, clock pieces and gadgets, train collection, and bird books, was a rock book.
He made us each a square, fairly large box, attached rope handles to them, wrote our names and "Rock Box" on it, made little sections in the boxes, and put a supply of paper strips and tape and pens on the table. We each took our pile of rocks, and proceeded to sort through them, asking him what they were, or looking them up in the book if he wasn't sure (or just told us he wasn't). We wrote the names on the strips of paper, and taped them to the rock or the box near the rock. And this became something we'd do a lot when we'd come over. We were good little rock collectors!
This was bonding time with Grandpa, which could be rare, being as he was a rather quiet keep-to-himself type guy, who'd rather be holed up in his woodshop or clock-making shed (that one we really didn't ever get to go into!). And we would be so proud of figuring out what the rocks were, diligently labeling and categorizing them in our individual boxes, and then going back outside to dig for more - but now looking for different types or better specimens.
I still look back so fondly on those times, as I know my sisters do. We still talk about our rock boxes periodically. It's sad that only my older sister's box didn't get lost in our many moves, but I still have the memories. The rocks would only be a physical reminder of those. My grandpa was such a character, but such an interesting person. He passed away my freshman year in high school, and I always wish I had gotten to learn more from him. But I cherish the times we did have.