I grew up on the coast in South Florida, and as Katie and I got closer to Myrtle Beach last week it reminded me more and more of home. We saw sandy soil and lots of pine trees as we got into South Carolina—cabbage palms too, of course. I even found boiled peanuts at a convenience market where we stopped for gas.
Once we got there, there was plenty of sea food. I think there is a sea food buffet every other block in Myrtle Beach. But I’m not a big fan of sea food fixed for crowds, and we only ate out once, at the Wicked Tuna on Murell’s Inlet. We may have had the best grilled grouper I’ve had since I left Florida 47 years ago. It was topped with a light lemon garlic cream—and grilled perfectly, yet one more proof of the existence of God and common grace.
We stayed on the beach, and it was not yet time for the spring break hoards to descend. There was plenty of time for tea on the balcony and walks on the beach.
I had always heard and believed there were better shells on the west coast of Florida than on the Atlantic coast anywhere, except perhaps the Florida Keys. I still think I’m right about that. On the east coast they wash up from deeper in the sea, pounded harder and longer by the waves. There are miles and miles of faded broken shells on both coasts, of course. But I think the odds of finding an unbroken shell with crisp ridges and good color are much better on Sanibel Island than Myrtle Beach.
I was taught how to look for shells by my Aunt Mary, who wouldn’t even pick up the shells most tourists drag home. She taught me about the tides and the names and the intricate beauty of this oceanic harvest, and each summer she would praise, or critique if necessary, my finds. By her tutelage I came to pick up very few shells, but very nice ones when I did. After I was married and had a family, Aunt Mary was my conscience as a taught my family how to look for shells on our fewer and fewer trips to the beach. I think all of my kids, but Meg especially, have an eye for it.
One of the things I learned was that particular beaches are know for particular shells. Sanibel is a good place to find olives, for example. That’s a sea shell, not a pickled fruit, by the way. My understanding is that shells grow in colonies and beaches reflect the colonies off shore. It didn’t take long to figure out that my odds of finding a decent moon snail, also called a shark eye, were pretty good at Myrtle Beach. During our first walk I saw several broken ones and I was determined to find an unbroken one with good color. This was my quest. Each day I turned several over with my toe, only to find that the edges broken or the color gone.
But the day before we left Katie found one. A small one, I hasten to add.
I’m not sure how I feel about this, seeing as how she is from near Toledo. Perhaps this is beginner’s luck. We’ve only been doing this together for 40 something years. Perhaps my new glasses have the wrong prescription. I’ve only had them a month. I’m the master sheller of the family, after all.
But the truth is she walked more slowly and looked more closely. And she found the prize. So perhaps I’m not the master sheller. Perhaps I’m the master teacher.
I’ll take that, and a decent moon snail, any day.