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Painting, Hiding Stones Phenomenon Comes To Paris

Terri Jimmerson can’t part with her half-eaten Snickers bar. She’ll eventually part with the little house with the welcome sign, but she’ll need to find the perfect place to put it first.

Her 11-year-old granddaughter, Shawna Lindsey, on the other hand, is happy to give me her fuschia-colored explosion. She’d like to see it placed somewhere outside Paris. I assure her it’ll be set somewhere in Commerce for someone to find.

In wicker baskets and plastic food containers, these rocks and others await their first (but certainly not final) resting place. They’re adorned with bright colors and positive messages; meant to be found and shared, and meant to make the day of whoever finds them.

The group gathered in Oak Park to show me their contributions to making Paris a more uplifting place goes by the name Paris Texas *ROCKS*, asterisks and capitalization included. They’re largely a Facebook group started by Jimmerson on July 23. On this particular overcast Saturday morning a month and three days later, the group has more than 4,500 members.

The draw is simple, Jimmerson says: Painting and leaving rocks with positive, whimsical, and upbeat messages for people to stumble across is fun. So is painting them to just make cool pictures on material everyone can literally find at their feet.

Jimmerson’s half-eaten candy bar is a good example of the whimsical. Then there are rocks with candy-colored hearts like the one 3-year-old Emmie Pyles likes to show off. Her 5-year-old sister, Arianna, champions the message “Be Brave.” Their grandmother, Robbie, painted these, but don’t tell that to the girls. They love to paint too, and they love to leave the rocks around town.

The family activity appeal is not lost on the members of Paris Texas *ROCKS* who show up to this small gathering. That holds true for the painting and the finding.

“I love the family time it creates,” Pyles says. Stay-at-home moms, she adds, love having something positive and constructive to do with the kids, from collecting soon-to-be-painted rocks to heading out to look for them.

Part of being in the group is keeping your eyes open for rocks that like to hide behind trash cans or under overhanging branches in the park. Sometimes it’s a scavenger hunt, especially for those new to the group, Jimmerson says. Other times it’s a matter of seeing something colorful on the ground and checking to see if it’s a new rock.

True story: Sometimes it’s half a lemon. Start looking for painted rocks, and it’s amazing how quickly your eyes will spot anything colorful, and how quickly your inner little kid gets used to the hope that maybe you’ve found a painted message from a neighbor.

For the kids themselves, finding the rocks can feel like finding real treasure. To be fair, to them it actually is. Jimmerson’s sister, Regina Kincaid, once found a triangular rock painted to look like pizza. When she got to church the next Sunday, she heard some kids giddily talking about the pizza rock.

“I was glad I left it,” she says. If she’d have taken it with her, those kids would never have found the joys most people come to know about finding random pizza.

Shawna and her cousin, 12-year-old Montana Coleman, say they love to paint rocks (lots of flowers and vibrant colors) and they love to drop them off and search them out. Favorite places for them, and the richest veins to mine are in the square and the grounds around Love Civic Center.

Some people pick up the rocks and take them. If the message touches them, they keep the rocks. Others move them to new hiding places. Most leave them where they find them and take photos to post on Facebook. Shawna likes to see if she can find the same rocks twice, but:

“They’re gone by the time we leave,” she says.

Paris Texas *Rocks* is an offshoot of the Kindness Rocks Project, a national movement that’s built under its own steam from a one-person hobby. That one person, by the way, is Megan Murphy, who lives on Cape Cod. Murphy says she was walking the beach in 2014 when she picked up a rock to paint. She placed it on the beach, where it was found by a friend whose day was made.

Murphy says her daughter urged her to start a Facebook page for the rocks. That happened in the spring of 2015. Two years later, localized versions of Kindness Rocks are just about everywhere, and Murphy’s talked to everyone from KETR to O Magazine to NASCAR, which, no joke, called her a mere few hours before I did to discuss using Kindness Rocks in its marketing.

“I thought, ‘Wow, NASCAR!’” she says. It wasn’t a connection she would have made, but by this point she’s less surprised that people have taken to her humble, “hobby of one.”

What might be more surprising is that Murphy has never seen herself as the maven of a movement. Not in the 21st century branding/identity marketing way that seems to saturate everything from headphones to (dare I say it) newscasters.

“I think it’s wonderful that it’s really caught on and the media have picked it up and so many people have joined,” Murphy says, “but I just still remain diligent in the reasons why I personally do it. The fact that that has resonated with so many other people is just really great.”

Kindness Rocks have made it around the world. Murphy says her daughter, studying abroad, called her from Ireland not long ago to tell her she’d found a rock there. Rocks from Paris have enjoyed a similar life of travel. Jimmerson says Paris-made rocks have found their way to New York City, Chicago – even as far as Australia. And soon, she says, some rocks are on their way to Galveston, in hopes of giving folks down that way a little reason to smile.

Most, of course, stay in Paris. On my way through the square downtown, I find one rock hiding quietly behind a trash can at Freenotes Harmony Park. I admit, I did actually smile from finding it. But I leave it where it is. That seems, after all, to be the point. At least that’s how Megan Murphy intends it.

“It’s all about spreading the love,” she says.