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January-February 2013

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Collector's Note: Youth, Poverty & Fluorite Collecting: A Memoir

AL AND I WERE IN OUR TWENTIES and had been married for about three years in 1963 when we settled in Elgin, Illinois, northwest of Chicago, to teach school. At least one of us (Al) had a job. A loaf of cheap bread could be bought for 10 cents, so living was less expensive than today. Nevertheless, we hardly had enough income to support major mineral collecting. Youth is brave, however, and maybe foolish. And we were so close to beautiful fluorite crystals! How could we resist the lure?

First, some background: I have been a mineral collector since I learned to walk. However, I probably would have focused on fossils if it hadn't been for Al. He needed a little converting at first, for he grew up on a farm located at the tip of a glacial moraine in Wisconsin and thought of rocks as something to throw out of the field. On our honeymoon he realized the hazards of marrying a mineral collector when he found himself prospecting for copper on an Upper Michigan mine dump! However, as we explored rock shops—and there were many in those days—Al's mathematical mind thrilled to the beauty of crystals. I loved them too. In Illinois, what better mineral to collect than fluorite? It is colorful; the crystals are varied and exquisite, and—in those days at least—specimens were relatively inexpensive.

Sue Liebetrau is a retired teacher and technical editor. She and her husband, Albert, live in central Oregon, where they enjoy field-collecting local material.

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