It looks like a glass teardrop there in my hands. I tip it this way and that, watching the tiny white pieces inside floating up and down in the clear liquid, catching the light and glowing with bits of colored fire. I’ve never seen anything so magical.

“Grannie, what IS this?” I breathe. I can see it’s a necklace. It has a little cap of silver leaves and a silver chain.

She understands. “A floating opal,” she replies, rummaging through her jewelry box.

I can’t look at anything else.

I wonder about the liquid. Is it water? From where? A magic spring bubbling up in a wizard’s garden? What if it isn’t water but tears cried by an enchanted princess and collected in the teardrop-shaped globe as a powerful talisman? Why is the opal in little pieces and how can there be such fiery red, blue, and green in its luminescent whiteness? Colored fire burning in water…is there a spell on this floating opal? What does it MEAN?

I don’t even realize how spellbound I am, or how long I would sit staring at this otherworldly object, until Grannie speaks, breaking the hypnosis:

“You can keep it, if you want.”


I’ve loved opals ever since. Their beauty, their symbolism, their lore. They’re said to be stones of emotion, freedom, and independence; that certainly sounds like my Grannie, who had a fiery streak herself. It sounds like what she may have wished for me. Opals also have a mixed-bag reputation of misfortune and hope, and once it was believed that an opal wrapped in a bay leaf would render a person invisible; it was accordingly dubbed patronus furum, “patron of thieves,” says the International Gem Society.

Come to think of it, I never did ask Grannie how she came by this floating opal…not that she would have taken it. Surely not. But as freely as she gave it, I wonder: Might it have belonged to my Papa G’s first wife who died years before? A floating opal necklace like this dates to the 1940s…

No matter, really, as was it my grandmother’s to give thirty-something years later, and I was the receiver.

Recently I stumbled upon this story about opals I’d never heard before One more mesmerizing, mysterious thing… courtesy of the International Gem Society:

In a chapter of Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 gothic novel, Anne of Geierstein, we learn the unusual story of the enchanted and mysterious Lady Hermione.

The grandmother of the titular character, she appeared to possess magical powers. At times, she seemed more an indefatigable spirit — an ignis fatuus or will-o’-the-wisp — than human. She always wore in her hair a golden clasp with an opal that “amid the changing lights peculiar to that gem, displayed internally a slight tinge of red like a spark of fire.” This gem seemed to reflect her moods, showing “a twinkling and flashing gleam which seemed to be emitted by the gem itself” whenever she became animated or agitated, “as if it sympathized with the wearer’s emotions.”

On the day of her daughter’s christening, drops of holy water struck her opal, which “shot out a brilliant spark like a falling star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colorless as a common pebble.” Hermione then collapsed. Two hours later, all that remained of her was a handful of gray ashes.

So. A grandmother, a granddaughter… named Anne.

Let me just say that Ann is my middle name.

I will not even address the name Hermione in this legend; I will just let Harry Potter fans savor that on a whole ‘nother level with me.

And let me also say that somehow, in the passing of the years, Grannie’s floating opal got misplaced. When one of my babies snapped the chain long ago, I put the teardrop pendant somewhere for safekeeping. I finally found it in a little heart-shaped velvet case inside a larger jewelry box.

The globe had separated from the silver-leaf cap. The liquid had dried up. All that remained were the little pieces of broken opal.

Tears welled in my eyes; I couldn’t help wondering if the opal stopped floating when my Grannie died.

But, if I ever write a fantasy someday, you can be sure a floating opal will play a significant role.


Photo: Vintage floating opal necklace on Etsy.
Looks exactly like Grannie’s when I first saw it.

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 15, I am writing around a word beginning with letter o.

28 thoughts on “Opal

  1. Fran, what a magical and fun slice you weaved through your different writing styles! You hooked me from the beginning with your childhood voice of wonder and kept me entranced to your great ending. My hand actually went to my heart when I read, “The liquid had dried up. All that remained were the little pieces of broken opal. Tears welled in my eyes; I couldn’t help wondering if the opal stopped floating when my Grannie died.” Receiving a gift from a beloved grandparent is so meaningful and wonderful to a child. I am sorry that the opal broke and the liquid dried up. Did you save the pieces? Though, I think your Grannie is smiling at your writing.
    I’ve always thought opals are beautiful and mysterious with so many different colors. I love semi precious stones and have been interested in their symbolism, meaning, properties, and energy for a long time. Thank you for sharing a bit of your childhood. When you write your fantasy novel-I’ll be in line to buy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so sad to read that your floating opal now only mesmerizes in your memory – and in the tales you weave for us. The wizard garden and the enchanted princess and all the other possibilities your little girl mind spun make me grin.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Opals are fascinating, I’ve seen a few, as we live in opal country, Australia is the world’s main producer of opal. So maybe your granny’s opal came from there? I’m not sure how much I actually like them or want one, but they are fascinating to look at, all those shimmering colours.
    There is a place called Coober Pedy in the desert in Central Australia, that I used to drive past when I worked in a school in Central Australia in the indigenous community. Most of the houses are built underground because of the intense heat and people usually mine individual, digging down in shafts. Sometimes someone strikes lucky and finds an enormous one. Some people make enough to live there permanently, some never find anything, a bit like the goldrush!

    Liked by 1 person

    • True confession: I’ve wanted to visit Australia for many years, having learned of it when very small; it was the setting of books my other grandmother read to me. It has always held an allure. I adored koalas and many stuffed toys were given to me. My husband and I had friends who lived in Australia for a while. They brought opals back to the State – imagine, living in the opal capital of the world! Surely there’s a special magic in it! I would love to visit those mines. I so enjoyed your response – thank you.


  4. Fran, this IS the first part of the fantasy that you have begun today. It promises to be a captivating and charming continuation. I see generational wisdom and power in the stone. And, like in Potter, there is mystery: where did the stone originate? I’m spellbound here!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the gem of thieves and the mysterious origin of this particular opal and the dying of the magic (possibly!) do mean that the fantasy novel has already begun. That’s probably why your grannie gave it to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m feeling the urge to rummage around my grandmother’s jewelry boxes now; I inherited all of them, being the only granddaughter with my mother long passed, too. Perhaps during spring cleaning…I’ll be looking for magic, thanks to your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lakshmi – I bet those ruby earrings were (are) beautiful. The loss of the opal struck so deep, less for its beauty than having been given the necklace by my grandmother.


  7. Another beautiful slice, Fran. I love the way you wove the mysticism and magic of your first encounter with opals along with a literary detour. It’s VERY much appreciated. And while I read your nod to Harry Potter’s Hermione, I couldn’t help but think of another “floating” Opal: the main character of Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie.” Thinking there’s another layer of connection there as well…

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Mysticism” – such a great word, and exactly the word for the spiritual aspect/ effect of that opal, floating there, suspended in that light oil. I did think of Opal, too, especially as I placed the title. A character “floating,” indeed. Maybe a few layers of connection, there… many thanks for these words, Lainie.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Always the layers, Fran. Always the layers. Which is why writing (and our writing community!) is so very wonder-full.


  8. I don’t normally get attached to jewelry, but this slice spoke to me. I found a pearl ring in a drawer in my parents’ home buried in a brown envelope marked with the sir name of my godmother who died long ago. I have no story to go with it. I didn’t know her well, but I cherish the ring anyway. Yours is better with the strong connection to your grandmother.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fran, such a lovely post and yet, another connection between the two of us! You don’t happen to have an October birthday, do you? Opals have long been a favorite semi-precious gemstone of mine. I do have an October birthday and beside Rose Zircon, Opals are one of the birthstones of that month. I’ve had several pieces of opal jewelry (non from my grandmother, however). But, they are “soft” stones and easily damaged. Regardless, I love opals and your story touched my heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Memories of looking at jewelry with your grandmother is a familiar memory for me too. I could spend hours coming up with stories of her pearls, emeralds, and rubies. Pearls were our birthstone (and we were never a fan of that). But we were a fan of our birthdates: 6/1 for me and 6/2 for her.
    “Tears welled in my eyes; I couldn’t help wondering if the opal stopped floating when my Grannie died.” This line broke my heart and reminded me in a way of Fawkes.

    Liked by 1 person

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