When my children were born, I knew that I would treat them to the same experience one day. When that day finally arrived and we pulled up to the beach in our giant conversion van with buckets, shovels, floaties and more, I knew the magic was about to begin. Since it was late afternoon we had missed all the good shells and made plans to walk the beach earlier the next day. We had a large bucket to collect the many seashells such early risers were certain to find.
Just after sun-up, my son and I hit the beach only to realize that some unexplainable scientific phenomenon had occurred, as all the shells were gone. A few broken pieces of shells were scattered along the shore, but the ones like those of my childhood were nowhere to be found. I promised my son it would be better the next day, but it wasn’t. My mind filled with shell theories and doubt about those shell stores that obviously had an insider connection to shell gathering. Giving no thought to the outcome of my actions, I purchased a bag of beautiful shells in all sizes and shapes. And then it happened… I pulled my husband into my conspiracy and made him walk ahead of me on the beach, secretly seeding it with cleaned, bleached, polished seashells. My child squealed with delight as he filled his shell bucket with treasures from the sea. Other parents looked in our bucket of shells with great doubt as our son pulled out conch shells and horn shells and ones that looked like little ashtrays. He was so happy. We were so wrong… but it continued even as the second child was born and two parents and a brother seeded the beach for the next child to enjoy.
Unfortunately, as the second child aged, so did we and it happened that we weren’t quite so discreet in our shell placement. My husband would walk ahead of us and fling shells from his pockets. My daughter was about ten when she looked up at me and said, “You know I can see Dad, don’t you?” I smiled and gave her that same look as when she questioned Santa. She knew, but it was more fun to continue believing.
The kids continued to grow up and we eventually stopped seeding the beach. We came to accept that the days of great shelling were over. This past year, as an older version of us visited the beach, I watched as other families kept the hope alive and searched for any sign of treasure from the sea. None could be found. After a week of algae filled water and diminished hope that the gulf would clear up for swimming, we woke to crystal clear water. It was as if God had brushed His hand across the sea and returned it to its beauty. The kids grabbed their snorkel gear and jumped in the water only to discover a world of beautiful shells just short of the shoreline. They gathered shells for hours and reveled in their find. The magic was still there, just waiting to be found.