Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Shell Game

A lot of nature, I could take or leave alone. Unusual rock formations? Towering redwood trees? Ho hum! But show me a seashell, and I used to be all over it. Big, small, occupied, unoccupied, broken, intact—didn’t matter! I still have a bowl of scallop shells on my desk at work, and a huge basket of conch shells in the family room at home.

Scallop Collection

As a kid, summertime meant the Jersey shore. Every year, my first stop was the Bait and Tackle Shop in Normandy Beach, which also sold exotic seashells. Those bivalves and mollusks were my primary seasonal purchases. I pored over my “Guide to the Seashells of the World.” By age seven, I could tell you (much) more than you wanted to know about the giant tridacna clam, the rarest cowries, and the poisonous creature housed in the cone shell. I daydreamed of beachcombing in Indonesia and Madagascar, in Sanibel, Florida and on Padre Island, Texas. 

Alas, my New Jersey collection was mostly broken clams (the infrequent whole shells I would give to my Aunt Rose, who used them for “ash receivers” for her cigarettes) and smelly mussels tangled up in seaweed. But I was not deterred! Someday I would travel far and wide seeking treasures from the deep!

Sher introduces Rose to a conch!

After Steve and I started the Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre, I walked the Delaware beaches, and had a bit more luck. The ocean surf wasn’t quite as rough as NJ, and the Delaware Bay was quite calm, so more shells survived the trip in to shore in one piece. My enjoyment of this hobby increased a thousand fold after the children came along. They too loved shell hunting at the beach and, like their mother before them, spending their allowances at the Sea Shell Shop on cameo shells and chambered nautiluses (nautili?) I recall my elation the day a rare tide dumped huge quantities of starfish on the sand. Of course, I had no idea what to DO with these live creatures after I filled a bucket with them. While I was figuring it out, I left the bucket outside behind our cottage. Within an hour, the many stray cats in town had made my decision for me: they found the starfish and tore them all apart.

My trips to Jamaica and Hawaii, and mission trips to Costa Rica, yielded some beautiful shells, but my collecting has slowed down markedly in recent years. My other interests have eclipsed this one, and now I can stroll for hours along the shoreline and not pick up a single shell. This makes me sad—it’s as if my shell-mania was a last connection to the wonder of my childhood, and now it’s finally over.

But I’m not quite ready to pitch the shells I still possess. Maybe, as long as I keep them, that long-ago little girl, and the thrill of her discoveries, will remain with me somewhere down deep. And maybe that is something worth holding on to after all.

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