She Sells Sea Shells
It was an oyster shell, bleached white. I found it in a box on my aunt’s dresser, the day I showed up to retrieve a few pieces of furniture and cleaned out her whole house to earn them.
I wasn’t emotionally prepared to finger through a whole lifetime in an afternoon. Which clothes might she wear at the nursing home? Did she need her underwear? Why did she have a tiny snuff can in the back of her medicine cabinet? Where did she wear a delicate pair of cream colored gloves, a green pill box hat? Why did she fail to tell me she met Ronald Reagan?
With every revelation of every layer of her life, I stood between the gap of precious memory and piece of trash. Too often, I made the wrong choice. I threw away stories as I sifted through her collected record, stories I wish she’d told me.
Instead, she told me other things. When she could still think, her affection for me swung like a pendulum. One day, I was too loud. The next, I was her DAR heir apparent. We shopped together for hats, a mutual obsession. We fell out over the very furniture I took from her house that day.
Behind the argument that ended our relationship, something deeper festered. She never had children, and she regretted it.
As I may someday regret it.
I wish she could tell me the story of the oyster shell. I know it had one. Even as I pitched it into the garbage, I knew. It whispered remonstrances from wherever it landed. I always hear them when I cry.
For I have a shell, too.
I was on my honeymoon, driving white-knuckled on the wrong side of the road along the southern coast of Australia. As we skirted a peninsula, the Indian Ocean crashed into the shore.
It was my first time with that body of water.
We pulled into a lay-by and got out of the car. The gale tore at my hair when I walked to the edge and bent over to touch a new ocean. Another notch in my belt of experience.
When I stood, my husband handed me a bleached white shell. “I took your picture. The shell was next to you in the sand. I thought you’d like to keep it.”
Was the story of my aunt’s oyster shell similar to mine? I’ll never know. But, in the twilight of her life, I will paint her shell with the story of my own. I will forget the unforgivable things. I will choose to remember her as a person who made and appreciated beautiful things. I will imagine her, at the edge of some unknown sea, wearing a delicate pair of cream colored gloves and a green pill box hat, laughing as the wind whips through her hair.
This post originally appeared as part of Tori Young’s Tiny Spark Series at her awesome blog The Ramblings. Given that my brain is fried, and many of you may not have made it over there to read the post, I’m re-running it here today. Happy Monday.