365 Days of Earrings

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cross-sections of Seashells

Back in 1962, when I was this little girl, my family had an amazing shell collection in our basement. We used to take the shells out to show our friends. Neither my brother or I had found any of the shells in this collection. Our parents hadn't either.

Bedell family beach house, early 1900's
My mother, who spent her summers at her family beach house on Neptune Beach, Florida, was rather distainful of this collection: they had been purchased by a great-uncle of my Dad's.
Big, beautiful cowries.
Massive conchs.

 My Uncle Sully, my mother's brother, had a collection just as impressive as this one. And he'd found every shell, many during World War II when he served as a Navy doctor in the South Pacific.

In 3rd grade at our elementary school, Norwood Parish School, our science and art teacher, Mrs. Woods, read Holling Clancy Holling's gorgeous biography of a hermit crab, Pagoo, aloud, and the class constructed an elaborate bulletin board of sea creatures based on the book. I still own the copy that I got for Christmas during my 3rd grade year. I've read this survival tale to a couple of my own classes.

My parents loaned our sea life collection to Mrs. Woods when my brother was in 3rd grade. The next year, they donated it to the school. They envisioned generations of children being able to study and learn from our shells. My brother and I were not as eager to give them away. Especially not the sawfish blade.

A sawfish blade is the sort of possession that makes your basement a special place for kids to visit. No one had a sawfish blade. We always felt a bit sad that it was gone.

One shell that did not leave was a large nautilus shell. My dad challenged my brother to cut a cross-section of that shell. My dad explained the Golden Mean, and how cutting this shell could unveil one of the great mathematical wonders of nature.

For years it sat, gripped in a vise, in my dad's workshop. My brother would attack it with a saw whenever he had anger to burn. As I recall, he only got about two inches through the shell in all that time.

Today, while finishing my sea creatures bulletin board, I wore this pair of shell earrings that I bought years ago. I didn't know when I would ever wear them. But they cost $2.00. And they tugged at memories deep in my core.

They will always remind me of my brother sawing that nautilus shell, of our shell collection, of Mrs. Woods, and of our family's connection to the sea.


jwkrumich said...

Great post, dear wife! I can still learn more about you and your fascinating past.

K├Ąthe said...

i agree with dad! i learn more each day. love the stories.