I was eight years old when my maternal grandmother died. Months after her death, the granddaughters were allowed to pick a piece of jewelry from her abundant, fake costume jewelry collection that she was known to glamorously wear. I chose her clasped ruby earrings that delicately hung like mini Christmas ornaments from my earlobes. I picked them because, even then at age eight, I knew they were somehow symbolic of my grandmother. Ruby red earrings. It takes courage to wear any form of red: be it lipstick, shoes, framed glasses, a dress, or a pair of pants. And when I learned more about this mineral, Ruby, I realized that it was no coincidence that she was attracted to its “life force”. After all, nothing in life is a coincidence.
My grandmother, Isabel, was born May 25, 1919 in Wharton, Texas, right where the Colorado River runs and two railroad companies had recently laid down their tracks. The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe and New York, Texas & Mexican Railway were actively bringing in settlers to expand the city and fill Wharton’s first opera house, library and public park.
The year of 1919 had merit of its own: Theodore Roosevelt died; the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution authorizing prohibition was ratified; the Grand Canyon officially became a U.S. National Park; an Egyptian Revolution broke out; Pancho Villa overtook Chihuahua, Mexico within weeks of Mexican Revolution leader, Zapata, being killed in Morelos; the U.S. Congress approved the 19th Amendment, which would guarantee suffrage to women; the Treaty of Versailles was signed; Adolf Hitler gave his first speech to the German Workers’ Party; and the Spanish Flu finally began to taper.
And my grandmother? She was placed into a convent, by her father, after her own mother died. She would remain there until age 13 when she was taken in by an aunt who had daughters of the same age. But my grandmother proved too lively, too adventurous, and too much of a bad influence on her cousins. The aunt didn’t appreciate my grandmother sneaking out of windows to go sing at amateur hour. She would soon have to find a place of her own if she wanted to be such a free-spirit.
And while all these events were taking place, and in areas where nothing was taking place, underneath the old land of this earth, corundum rested and developed, silently in wait, just as it continues to do today before it is mined.
Corundum is a rock forming mineral that is known for its hardiness, its abrasiveness, its density, its resistance, and its stability. It does not react to acid and almost any other thing in its environment. In its natural state it is transparent. When impurities are present in Corundum that’s when it really puts on a show. And like any showgirl, it takes on a new name, a stage name. Two of those names you will recognize are Ruby and Sapphire. Ruby displays her redness when Chromium is present in Corundum, while Sapphire exists only if Titanium and Iron are mixed with Corundum. The higher amount of the impurity; deeper is the color. The deeper the color; higher is the value. It is contamination at its finest.
Rubies and Sapphires, by no coincidence, are found in high quantities in countries where Buddhism is practiced- Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. They are mined in the same country where the underground Cu Chi tunnels were created to provide hiding to the Viet Cong in Vietnam. And in landscapes of Afghanistan, they sit side by side in glorious mountainous regions. They are well known to produce in significant abundance in Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Malawi.
It’s as if the hard lands are speaking; and Rubies and Sapphires are its language. And as is underground, so as it is above ground: life was shifting.
My grandmother traded in Wharton, which now boasted a population of 4,000 inhabitants and a community theater, for the dust eating, poor-forsaken, prejudice land called Ozona, Texas. She had distant relatives living there whom offered her a job as a waitress in a restaurant they owned. She soon married an illiterate man, became a mother of nine children, worked the fields from Texas to California, and one foggy morning, she became a widow. Her sheep sheerer husband was killed, along with two other men, when the truck he was in was struck by a diesel alongside a California road. But remember, Rubies don’t react to acid or anything much in the environment, and like Rubies, my grandmother wasn’t going to either. She had kids to feed, a household to run, a car to learn to drive, a city to establish herself in, and a life to live. And she did. But no sooner, than all kids grown and on their way, she discovered cancer roaming through her chubby, dance-loving, glittery-bolero wearing body.
Cancer or not, she continued. She danced, she drank, she had a boyfriend, she cooked, she carried her little mutts around, long before it was popular to do so, she swore like a sailor and she remained sarcastic, abrasive, telling it like it is to whomever – so what if she offended someone. And as a grandmother, she was loving, full of energy, and to me, she sparkled. She hadn’t been born a ruby, but she had become one.
You see, we are all born like corundum, blank slates. And when impurities set in, it is ourselves that decide how we will be affected, how we will showcase, either like a glistening Ruby or like bitter gravel. My grandmother represented the very definition of Ruby; she did it justice, and deserved to wear those ruby earrings, that I still have and cherish in my costume jewelry collection.
My birthstone happens to be Ruby; I hope to live up to its name. My grandmother’s birthstone was emerald. And I’m sure emerald has a story to be told, too. I don’t know it yet. But I do know that September’s stone belongs to the other famous Corundum, Sapphire. My grandmother, at age 61, died in the month of September – and that, too, is no coincidence.