I still remember how excited I was when I saw a brown object tumbling in the surf and realized it was a mostly intact shell. We were in Florida for the first time, walking on a beach along the Gulf coast. I caught up with the object, and the thrill of the hunt was on. Neither my husband nor I found anything as nice that week or since, but we’d caught the fever. We couldn’t pass up an olive or cone or even a broken whelk. At the end of a week we had too much for our suitcase, and sent a box home via UPS. We cleaned the shells––I think maybe the clerk at the UPS station had told us how––and filled a fishbowl and multiple jars, which continue to clutter up the back of a cupboard.
Sand dollars strike my fancy too. I plan to mount them in a row, biggest to smallest, in a shadow box of some sort. That’s been a plan for years, but I’ve never done it. Someday, maybe.
Here’s a tip though––if you’re walking the Seaside, Oregon, promenade, head out from the flags and turn left toward the cove to find intact sand dollars, the ones the sea gulls haven’t eaten.
Photo is our haul after a half hour at low tide.
But my favorite shell souvenir comes from the inland state of Ohio. Several years ago, Irv and I were on a road trip following the river along the southern border of the state. Thrift store junkies, we couldn’t resist a stop when we happened upon a small second-hand store in an Appalachian town, where, exactly, I no longer know. It was a dismal shop in a poor area, with nothing of value to be seen. On a ledge close to the front door, sat a basket containing perforated shells. I picked one up, never having seen such an item, and asked about it.
The shop owner laughed. “Oh, those are button shells. You can have one, no charge. People around here use them instead of stones, in their driveways.”
Turns out there was a big button industry along the river in the early 1900s. Buttons were punched out of fresh water mussels found in the shallows.
I love the button shell. I consider it a museum piece.