When I was a little girl, my grandpa visited one summer. He was a carpenter by trade, restoring older homes and building new ones. Like most contracting work, his job was seasonal, so every now and then he’d travel to our state for a visit.
One summer he visited for a few days before he took a long road trip. Shortly after hauling his suitcase into his room, he came out to where I was sitting on the couch.
“Here. I brought you something,” he said, plopping down beside me.
He handed me a big, bulky lump wrapped in newspaper. I peeled away the paper and found the most beautiful sea shell I’d ever seen. Its insides glistened with a pearly lining–blue and pink areas that sparkled in the light when I moved it back and forth.
“Put it up to your ear,” Grandpa said with a grin. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners. He reminded me of someone who had a secret to share.
I heard a muffled sound that grew louder when I shifted the shell against the side of my head.
“What do you hear?” he asked.
“It sounds like a roar,” I told him.
“Exactly!” he said. “That’s the ocean you hear. Listen and you’ll hear the waves crashing to shore.”
Naivety is a beautiful thing when you’re a wide-eyed third-grader. I must’ve sat there twenty minutes with my ear glued to that shell. I closed my eyes to picture the scene, and could see the ocean just as surely as if I were wetting my toes in the surf.
Today I photographed shells. Funny how memories like that roll back when we least expect it.