ROBSTOWN, Texas (AP) — Bill and Lois Pattillo's formal dining and breakfast tables are real gems.
Place settings are displayed on linen, with fancy flatware, crystal and china.
The food is hard as rocks.
Well, it is rocks.
All but one item, which is edible.
Most folks can't find it, the couple said, but if someone does, Bill gives them a diamond.
He has plenty of those, he said, because he has 6 million tiny miners working for them.
The quartz crystal Pecos diamonds are pushed out of ant mounds in the Pecos River delta near Roswell, N.M., the 82-year-old former refinery foreman said, chuckling.
For about 30 years, the couple's Rock Food Table has been a main dish attraction at more than 260 rock and gem shows in nine states. They have loaded and hauled more than 450 pounds of rocks, with six motor homes throughout the decades, to tote their tables about 300,000 miles.
"It is one of the more popular displays of our show," said Gene Schade, local jeweler and treasurer of the Gulf Coast Gem & Mineral Society. The nonprofit's 51st Gem and Mineral Show was earlier this month.
"Everybody loves food," said Lois Pattillo, 81. "So we draw people."
It began with a rock that looked like a loaf of French bread, she said.
"It was a perfect fit for a bread basket I bought at Kmart," the longtime Robstown bank employee told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/15svu1u).
She showed her loaf at a gem club meeting, and another member gave her a rock that looked like a deviled egg.
Members have since given many faux food rocks to the couple.
"It wasn't long until Bill walked in asking the grandkids who had been in Mama's potatoes," she said. "He was holding one he pretended to find in the driveway."After adamant denials, he laughed as he gave his wife their first "tater rock."
But it wasn't until the couple found a crystal that resembled a cake at a rock show in Oregon that their rock food table trek was spurred.
"We ended up digging through a 3-foot layer of clay on a hill there to find thunder eggs," she said. They are Oregon native crystal rocks with a striking resemblance to muffins, now a mainstay on their rock food tables.
What about biscuits?
They're part of the fare. Despite looking fluffy and delicious, they are fossilized cow cud.
Sliced and bone-in whole stone hams, slabs and sliced fake bacon, rock steaks, mineral cheeseburgers and fossil pork chops are among the mock meats on the Pattillos' tables.
Fresh water pearls make great tapioca, and slug pearls from the Mississippi River are a tempting dish of fake hominy.
There are also bite-sized sweet treats for dessert — what else, rock candy.
A wedge of look-alike Key-lime pie the couple bought for $12 at one show turned out to be a real gem. It's a slice of citrine crystal, a semiprecious stone used for jewelry and decorator items. They later learned it is worth about $50 per gram. That piece of pricey pie could pay more than $8,000, the couple said.
No table is complete without man's best friend begging for a bone beneath the table.
The Pattillos' pup is a rock hound dog, with a pooper-scooper holding its droppings — coprolite, actual fossilized animal excrement.
"It prompts a lot of 'oooohhh's' out of people," she said, wrinkling her nose.
Mostly the couple has fun with a hobby they enjoy together, their son said.
"I've never been on a rock hunt; to me it's just rocks," said Trey Pattillo, 57. "It keeps them young and happy and active after retirement. I don't think there's a place in the U.S. they could go without somebody that could be there in a day to help them if they broke down along the road."
He helped them build a website, www.rockfoodtable.com , which has had more than 31,800 visitors.
As much as sharing their interest in rocks, the couple loves interacting with people.
"We love to watch them point and ooh and ahhh — wish we had a penny for every picture taken,'" Bill Pattillo said.
He teases couples with one or the other directing their partner to snap photos of various dishes, plates of food or desserts. "You know we charge $10 per photo," he tells them after they have shot several, earning surprised looks.
Bill Pattillo can hold a pretty stone-face glare after his comment, his wife said.
He inevitably admits: "We have a hard time collecting," she said.
His antic still earns him a chuckle from her after 60 years of marriage.
"It's been a lifetime of enjoyment to us," he said. "We are fortunate to have good health. And now people invite us to shows with our tables, and they pay us a daily stipend and for our gasoline. We call it rockhounding, just dragging a bunch of rocks around already and still looking for others.
"There's still lots of rocks out there that look like food," he said, "we've just not found them yet."
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com