by John Carter
Picture a 9-year old boy in the early 80s picking out pumpkins with his mom in the middle of October. Jeffrey Alans was the scene as the youngster frantically scampered about looking for the ideal pumpkin that would serve as his canvas for the annual pumpkin design contest at Epiphany Grade School.
Spoiler alert: That boy was me.
Mom and I were there on a mission. The Carters (especially me) can be a competitive lot from time to time, and I knew that my pumpkin would destroy all of the other kids’ submissions. The blue ribbon and bragging rights would be all mine. It was in the bag. Now I just needed a pumpkin and an idea.
As I scoured over the potential candidates, nothing stood out. But then…I saw it. The longest, most tubular-shaped pumpkin on the whole lot. And also the ugliest. I mean, it was hideous. It looked more like a Long John from Denny’s Donuts than a pumpkin.
And then something unexpected happened. In 9-year old Carter’s body, there was perhaps only one quality stronger than competitive fire: compassion. And in that moment, my compassion took over.
I said, “Look mom,” and held it aloft. I didn’t really do this proudly, but more as a ‘what do you think?’ sort of maneuver. She laughed and said, “Keep looking.” But I brought it over to her and said, “No, I think this is the one.” She told me how terrible it was and encouraged me to find another. But I persisted and said, “Yeah but if I don’t buy this one, then nobody will. It’s just too ugly.”
I think my mom hugged me, and then we paid for this awful thing.
When we got home, the reality of my empathy for this inanimate object set in. I was in tears when my mom did what she’s always done: she rescued me.
We laid that ugly pumpkin down in a basket with some grass, painted some eyes on it, glued big paper ears on top, and a cotton tail on its rump. We threw in a sign that read “The Easter Pumpkin.” Crisis averted. Blue ribbon acquired. Bragging rights to this day. In your face, Susie Grimler!
All this makes me think of my trips to Antwerp, Belgium.
Much of my time in Antwerp is spent eating waffles drinking beer looking through what I call the “shoe box.” I sit in these stark white, very industrial European offices poring over thousands of diamonds each day that I’m there.
The shoe box holds hundreds of little lucite boxes, each containing anywhere from 5 to 100 diamonds. Most are in there because they’ve been cast aside for some reason or another. The color may be deemed too low, or the clarity might be subpar, maybe the way it was cut is off.
While I’m not interested in about 99.875% of the diamonds in the shoe box either, I always see this as my personal treasure hunt to bring back something gorgeous from the Land Of Misfit Diamonds. I’m like Mel Fisher on a diamond mission and nobody is stopping me from finding the hidden goodies.
Every trip I find 3 or 4 diamonds in that shoebox that, when mounted into a custom ring just for them, will scream to the world that they are no castaway! Just because the color of a diamond might be very noticeable doesn’t mean the cut’s not amazing. And when the cut is incredible you can celebrate that color, not hide it.
These are diamonds that are so gorgeous and so vibrant in so many other ways, people cannot believe it when I tell them where it was found. And all of this for prices far less than the “preferred diamonds.”
(Above: a custom ring made with castaway “shoebox” diamonds from Antwerp)
It’s not many, and it’s only about once a year that I get the privilege of doing this, but every time I’m there, I think of my mom and that Easter Pumpkin. The lesson I learned as a 9-year old is that just because something has been discarded, it doesn’t mean that person saw it in the same light that I will.
As a boy it was a pumpkin. Today, I’m rescuing gems from a life of insignificance and placing them with someone who will love them forever. Beauty can be found in anything, but sometimes it needs to be dug from the depths of the earth, a pumpkin lot, or even a shoe box.