ASHTON — It began as a way to pass the time in what had been a difficult year for Kathy Ekers Cobb of Ashton – painting happy scenes on small rocks and hiding them for others to find.
Cobb said the year had been a hard one for her. Heart problems landed her husband in the hospital for nearly a month last year. Then, after returning home from a trip to South Carolina in January, Cobb found a power surge had destroyed all the electronics in her house. It also knocked out the heating system, and that allowed her water pipes to freeze and burst, sending water shooting throughout the rooms. Cobb said there were literally icicles hanging from the ceilings.
It was while being forced to spend a month at the Holiday Inn in Barboursville that she began leaving painted rocks hidden at the motel to pass the time. Cobb grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and a friend there had started a rock club and encouraged Cobb to do the same here.
On Jan. 10, Cobb started a group on Facebook called “Western WV Rocks,” and in a little more than two months, the club has nearly 6,400 members. The idea and the rules are simple: Paint a rock, hide it for someone to find, and/or find a rock and hide it again for someone else.
She now realizes that what began while she was “down in the dumps,” has been as much a blessing to her as to the people who find the rocks.
“This has been breathtaking,” said Cobb. “It has changed the rhythm of the world for me.”
Cobb said the rocks are meant to spread small acts of kindness and to make someone smile. Often, the stories Cobb hears of how the rocks affect others though bring her to tears.
She tells of a woman from Jackson, Ohio, who has a brain tumor and found a painted rock on her way to the doctor. The woman said she felt it was a sign from God. Another said she had lost a daughter. She painted a rock with her daughter’s name on it and hid the rock as a way of healing.
“There have been a lot of tears,” Cobb stated. “People need kind words.”
But there are many happy stories shared, as well. One woman asked Cobb if she realized what she had created. She told her the streets of Point Pleasant were full again; full of children and their parents on Main Street and near the floodwall, searching for and hiding rocks.
Cobb has two people helping her with the Facebook page these days – Amber Long Janicker, a fifth grade teacher at Ashton Elementary, and Cobb’s sister, Joyce Mayes. They try to post a nice comment to everyone who shares photos of the rocks they paint or find on the Facebook page.
Cobb said anyone wanting to get started in the club can visit the Facebook page for details and guidelines. She said for the paint to adhere to the rocks, they must be completely clean and dry. Cobb suggests washing the rocks then placing them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn the oven off and allow the rocks to cook prior to handling and painting.
Affectionately known now as “the rock lady,” Cobb said she recently painted 50 rocks and hid them at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. After posting where she hid them to the site, she sat back and watched as the parents and children came with their containers to hunt them.
She is planning a painting session soon at Ashton Elementary, and has been requested to hold one at Beale. Schools are very popular hiding places she added, and the project teaches children to show love.
Cobb said she has club members from Sissonville to Charleston in West Virginia, and from Ironton, Ohio to Louisa, Kentucky. The rocks have been carried to, and hidden, in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Texas.
“What’s funny is, it’s not really me doing anything,” she said. “They all have these beautiful hearts and loving hearts. They just needed a jump start to show themselves what tender-hearted people they really are. They thank me, when it’s all of them who have blessed me.”
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.