Shells and sand

Our last morning of our vacation: we emptied the remaining food from the fridge and stuffed dirty clothes into overladen suitcases.  I gathered up toothpaste and toothbrushes, the girls’ toy ponies, the babies’ receiving blankets.  I watched Cohen ever-so-carefully dump the shells he had collected into a ziplock bag for safe-keeping.  I grabbed a baby and held Ellie’s hand and followed the line of people that was my family down the stairs to where our cars were parked in the driveway.  It was only us and my parents who remained at the beach-house which had held over 20 people for the last week and a half.

The house had been a base for numerous pool games, ping pong matches, and gin rummy tournaments.  The kids would change from their clothes to their swimsuits and back again, moving back and forth from from the ocean, to the sand, to the pool like the waves in which they were splashing.  They ate too much ice cream and too many Cheetos and were giddy to be allowed to drink apple juice with every meal.  I managed to get out one morning to walk along the shore with Everett, his head buried in my chest, a blue sun-hat perched on his head and covering his eyes.  Our family triumphed in an escape room, spun out our tires at a go-kart track, and attempted to keep the kids from not going crazy on a harbor boat tour with chips and hotdogs.  Mostly, I fed babies.  But when the babies ate, I watched my dad laugh with his brothers, shouting out dad-jokes and clapping their hands, chortling with the simple truth that there was no where to be but here–eating ice cream and playing pool– with each other.

Now- the last morning of our trip– nearly everyone had left to return home and its responsibilities: some to Boston, to Virginia, to Maryland– most back to Illinois.  After carrying several suitcases down from our now empty house, in addition to several of the items that failed to fit into suitcases, I watched my dad take a Trader Joes bag to the side of the driveway.  He was by himself, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t know I was watching him as he scooped up some sand to take home, letting it fall through his open palms to the bottom.  He folded up the bag and carefully placed it in the trunk of his car, sliding the excess sand from his hands to indicate the task was complete.  I remembered Cohen and how he packed his shells.

Cohen cried as the last bags were put into the trunk.  “I don’t want to go home,” he hiccuped, letting the tears run down his cheeks. I felt that way too, so I cried with him.  Annie Dillard found vacation weekends with her family so Beautiful it hurt her to watch them start, because she knew that with the beginning would come the end.  Which is silly, but also true.

Now I find myself in the midst of my “tired-thirties”. It seems nearly impossible to find a place in the car for the sand and the shells– let alone savor them. But while I’m here in this middle part of life, there lies just beyond my reach and recollection, a carefree past and wizened future.  And these seemingly opposing forces blur together, not so opposed after all.

Old men will still eat ice cream like kids, and I’ll feel the sand in my hands again.

“When you enter this life, I pray you depart, with a wrinkled face, and a brand new heart.”-U2


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2 Responses to Shells and sand

  1. Christopher Thomas says:

    Liz–Today as I was cleaning out our car I found a ziplock bag full of once treasured but now forgotten sea shells from our summer vacation trip… I thought to myself that maybe I should bring them inside to spark the joy and remember our trip with the kiddos. Instead, in the unending mess of unpacking after moving to our new place, I threw them away. Your post made me instantly regret doing so, but also reminded me that there will be more shells to collect. As always, thanks for putting your thoughts into your lovely ways of writing.


  2. papa says:

    Well said Liz .What wonderful memories.


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