A Rock on Crushed Ice

I was trailing after my dad through the supermarket. We were walking through the meats and seafood section. For a second time, I reached up and filched crushed ice from the displays of fish. Tilapia was the only fish I knew at the time.

It was then I ran to catch up after my dad. And fell behind just as quickly as I found what looked to be half a dozen rocks set on crushed ice. Unlike fish, which I knew not to touch, I did not hesitate to pick up one of the rocks. Though it was as large as my palm with outstretched fingers, it was much smoother and lighter than it looked to be and smelled of the ocean. I noticed the curve of an edge and rotated my wrist. I was dazzled by the unexpected iridescence, mother-of-pearl rippling across the whole interior of what I realized was a shell.

I looked up at the displayed price tag. It cost a couple of dollars. I knew what a “shell” was, but the word “abalone” was unfamiliar to me. I would later look it up in the massive two-volume dictionary that came with the encyclopedia set and then look for pictures in volumes A and S. I picked up the others, flipping them over, finally deciding on one.

My dad had finally noticed that I was no longer following him and had walked back. He looked down at me, his eyes drawn to the shiny shell in my hand.

I could not stop smiling as we walked out of the supermarket; I held a white plastic bag that held the shell.

At home, my dad asked for the shell. I followed him to his tool shed under the stairs and waited for him as he rummaged through a large plastic bucket until he found a large wooden handled brass bristle brush. I then followed him across the lawn, out the gate, and to the curb. He gently pushed me a few feet away before he made the first of many swipes across the lumpy black-green and white surface. Powder sprayed off the shell, the brush leaving grooves in a lump. I was too shocked to protest.

Minutes later, I was following my dad to the spigot outside of the laundry room. I watched as he rinsed off the last of the white powder, revealing an orange-pink shell with ridges in graceful spirals and raised holes half an inch from its lip. It was so much more beautiful.

Once it was dry, I placed it in prominence on my dresser bureau. It was the centerpiece of my rock, shell, and coral collection. Nothing that I had found and would find on mountain trails or beaches for years to come would surpass it. Nor would any have such a story behind it. The abalone shell is still my favorite. And after forty years and move after move after move, it is the last and only piece left of my collection.


(an abalone shell)

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