I spent my early years in Orepuki, a seaside town on the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, which (among other things) is known for its gemstone beach. My father was born in Orepuki and over his many years there - long before Gemstone Beach was famous or even called by that name - he, like all Orepuki kids, collected the coloured pebbles.
I have childhood memories too of picking up the colourful stones (as did my brothers and sisters). We'd take them home and keep them in jam-jars of water, thus ensuring their colours would glisten bright. (That is until algae grew around them, draping the stones with rank, green tendrils.
Nearly 60 years ago now, Dad plonked all of his stone collection into the wet cement of the concrete paths and steps he built around our house. After we shifted away from Orepuki the house gradually fell into a pile of rotten wood and the paths became overgrown.
The steps however, were always visible and in perfect order.
I vowed that one day I was going to rescue them from among the thistles and ragwort, and bring them back with me to my home in Dunedin.
About 1991, I wrote for permission from the owner of the land that the steps were on, and during a Christmas reunion at Orepuki with extended family, seconded my husband, brothers and cousins to help man-handle them on to the back of a truck.
From there they travelled to my brother's place in Balfour and then eventually from there to Dunedin - an effort which involved my husband's help again, my brother's front-end loader and the brute force of a friend from Yorkshire to help us carry them up our steps and into our backyard.
I was known as the 'mad sister' for all this effort. They weren't the easiest things to move, that's for sure.
However, it was so worth it. I love this tangible reminder I have of of my childhood home. I always feel close to my father (dead 43 years this Thursday) whenever I take time to sit on them and rub my palms over the smooth, rounded stones.
To me they are gems not so much semi-precious, as fully-precious. Each one tells a story and recently I've been paying attention.