Gold Glasses for Grandmom
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 13, 2007
“There is gold in them.” The woman in the antique store told me that the glasses were made with gold. They were old glasses. She didn’t know how it was done. They were red. I couldn’t understand why glasses made with gold in them could be red, but there they were. She said that was how you could tell, that only glasses made that way could be that color of red. Blood red. Nothing else is that exact color. She thought they had been made during the Depression. I was so intrigued that I came back a few days later and bought them. People have been coloring glass for centuries. The ancient Romans knew that adding gold to glass would convert it into a ruby-red material when heated in a controlled fashion. My favorite colors have always been blue and green and black. I think I liked the glasses more because I imagined the gold swirled around in their making. I’d done some glass blowing, so I could appreciate the red hot glowing balls of molten glass being formed into joints, into tubes and balls and shapes. The hot glass is so pretty that you want to touch its perfection, but you cannot. Years later I was to work in a printed-circuit board shop, and learn how gold is applied to the finger tabs along the edge on each board, the tabs that connect the board to other boards, and to power. Gold’s properties as a conductor make it almost perfect for connecting these thin circuits. One need only apply a current across an object in a tank of acidic dissolved gold, and you can coat that object with a layer of gold. Of course, on a circuit board, under the gold is a layer of nickel. I do not know exactly what the nickel is for, unless it is to create a thickness and strength for the very thin layer of gold, which could otherwise be worn off quickly. And the gold must have something to adhere to. I don’t remember exactly why nickel was used, for once you see the gold tank, you forget all else. It is a shining pool of red, the color of blood. For gold does not dissolve into any old solvent. To dissolve gold and maintain it in solution you need cyanide – actually hydrogen cyanide is its proper name. The structure that forms is similar to a structure found in hemoglobin. Cyanide is also necessary for the commercial preparation of amino acids. It is considered likely that hydrogen cyanide played a part in the origin of life. It is released from molecules in cherries, apricots, bitter almonds and apple seeds. At the right concentration hydrogen cyanide will kill a human within a few minutes. The toxicity is caused by the cyanide ion, which prevents cellular respiration.
It occurred to me to ask my grandmother if she had known about these glasses, and she said she remembered when Ruby Reds were popular, but had never owned any. I had only five of the small juice glasses. Five. She had five children left before my father died, but she had raised six healthy children. Six. One of my aunts had died, hit by a car, while still a young and beautiful mother. I brought the glasses with me to my father’s wake and gave them to her then. I don’t know why. I seldom saw her, and wanted to give her something. After a while at the wake I saw her, and she was a little on the tipsy side as my father might had said. She was carrying the glasses around the house with her. I dismissed it at the time as an old woman having had too much to drink. But she was hugging the glasses, and would not put them down. After that I looked for more. I finally found one, and bought it, for it had finally occurred to me that she might have found more significance in the number of glasses than I had intended. I sent it to her so that she could have six blood-red cyanide glasses of gold, one for each of her children.