familyshellTwo types of people walk on the beach: those who pick up the shells and those who don’t.

For forty years, I didn’t pick up shells. Taking home bucketfuls of shells seemed like something a tourist would do. The only people who collected shells were the ones who needed souvenirs of the beach, right? Also, taking shells home felt sort of greedy. If every beachcomber picked up the shells, what would the rest of us look at?

For years, the kids asked to collect the shells, but I always said no. What was I going to do with a bunch of broken shells? They would just end up in broken pieces on the kids’ nightstands.

Even though I told the kids to leave the shells at the beach, Sam always stuffed a few in his pockets. One day this fall, he came back to the beach house with an impressive haul. He wanted to take them back to Katy with us. I explained the tiny animal inside would die and the shells would stink. “We could boil them!” he said. “We could boil them and start a family shell collection.”

And that’s what we did. After that walk in September, we’ve become a family who picks up shells. We shout to each other when we find a really big or pretty one. Our pockets are always full of sand, and I’m always boiling or drying bunches of shells.

We found an old Shell Guide the former owners left behind, and we pick through the shells we collect each day, lining up our treasures on the Guide. The kids love to sift through the Family Shell Collection to pick out their favorites–the ones they remember finding, the ones with surprisingly vibrant marks, the ones with strange, jagged holes.

Even though we’ve found some very pretty shells, those are not the gift of our family’s shell collection. The gift is how differently we see the beach now. Hunting for shells has taught us to look at the shore more closely. Our eyes are trained now. Each one of us wants to be the one who finds the whole sand dollar, the shell with bright purple streaks, the most enormous shell, the one bigger than everyone else’s. We are miners looking for gems, archeologists searching for fossils.

Rental season for our beach house is about to start, and I’ve been wondering what to do with our shell collection. I thought maybe we should bring it back to our in Katy and display it in our living room. The renters might appreciate more space at Best of Times, and we could have a piece of Galveston with us here.

But then I thought more about the renters who will use the beach house this summer. Maybe they’re the type of people who don’t pick up shells, who are afraid it’s greedy or messy. Maybe they look at the beach and see litter and chaos instead of treasures and jewels. And maybe writing them a letter about the Family Shell Collection will encourage them to start one of their own.

Maybe they’ll go home with their own big wooden tray filled with shells–and a new view of the beach.




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