Point of View: The Earring Man — Paying it forward

My father makes earrings from rocks. He has a philosophy about it, too.

He cuts the rocks with a rock saw, then grinds the pieces into a shape, usually a flattened teardrop, but it could be a triangle or diamond. He then grinds them on finer and finer grindstones until they are smooth and polished, and the beauty of the rock can shine. He carries them home in his pocket.

After a few mornings of work, when he has accumulated several pairs of shaped stones, he puts on his glasses and sits at the kitchen table with his small Rubbermaid container of salt, his Superglue and the “caps” that will connect the stone to the hook. He embeds the polished stones upright into the salt, to keep them still. He squeezes a drop of glue on each top end, which he had carefully sized at the grindstone, then drops on the small metal cap. When he’s done, there is a little forest of earrings in the salt, quietly drying.

The next step is to connect the capped stones to hooks, using tiny pliers. He discovered years ago that if he puts an extra loop between the caps and the hooks, the earrings won’t twist and hang askew on a woman’s ears. So they all get the extra tiny loop. Then he hangs them on his portable earring display, each pair waiting for a woman to choose exactly them from all the offerings. He is amazed that every pair eventually is chosen, even the ones he thinks are ugly.

He says he has enough rocks to last 400 years. I’ve sorted and prioritized some, in an effort to tidy up. Typical daughter. People bring him rocks, and not all of them are so special. He buys rocks too, and is fond of lab-made opal, a very flashy rock that comes in brilliant colors. He always did like gaudy things. We had a pink and silver bathroom growing up, and orange floral carpet.

My dad’s name is Willis, and he will be 90 in July. He has made thousands of pairs of earrings. They have gone to all the continents. He has never sold a pair and refuses to do so; they are gifts. He first started making them about 25 years ago as one of his retirement hobbies, along with singing, playing tennis and golf. He’s had to give up tennis and golf, and even singing is getting more difficult — his range is shrinking. But, he says, a man has to have a reason to get up in the morning.

Back in his hardware store in Freeman, South Dakota, an old farmer told him this. The farmer had moved into the small town to retire, and was explaining why he still did what he did. Now my dad tells me this almost every phone conversation. He makes his earrings at a lapidary workshop at the retirement park in which he lives, in Mesa, Arizona. On Mondays he is in charge, and has to be there at 8:30 a.m.; he might get as many as five pairs made on a Monday. Other days he might not get to work until 9:30 a.m. He often sees his earrings on women in the park. He doesn’t know them all, but they know him. He is the Earring Man.

Since his other activities have dwindled, his social circles for sharing earrings have diminished. His earring display gets full, and his neighbors already have too many earrings. He has lost my mom, then another earring-wearing partner. As his daughter, I’ve had the pleasure of helping him find homes for his earrings. He recently mailed me a box with 50 pairs of beautiful earrings, in bread bags. My assignment is to give them away to women who will enjoy them. I made an earring display — a piece of denim sewed onto a wooden hanger. It hangs in my car. I find homes for them everywhere I go — the ski trail parking lot, the Spenard Builders Supply parking lot, music practices, bridge friends, the woman who cuts my hair, the gals at the dentist office. There are two pairs wrapped in blue tape with names in Sharpie, on hold for young friends who will be allowed to have their ears pierced when they turn 10.

Dad says, if his earrings brighten the life of some woman somewhere, it’s worthwhile. A man has to have a reason to get up in morning. So off to work he goes, making the world a more beautiful place, two earrings at a time.

Jane Wiebe lives in Homer. She especially enjoys skiing, hiking, gardening, playing bridge, keeping bees and humbly practicing the cello.