A bunch of shells. Shells from beaches near and far. Shells from vacations not exactly forgotten but all blended together in a seamless stream of memory containing different oceans, different Summers and different people. Impossible to know which came from where. Shells from a time when photographs where neatly stored in albums, dutifully printed in that nether time of adjustment between the end of the vacation and the resumption of ordinary life.
A bunch of pretty shells gathered together in a pretty ceramic dish. Over the years, the dish was moved from the living room to the kitchen to the guest bathroom, in a demotion that goes hand in hand with the diminishing shine of Summer memories, of people who were important once – a life now on different tracks.
As I pee, one day, I contemplate the shells.
I will go months gliding around my house, blind to the details of certain things in certain corners for certain reasons, until I have weeks when my sight is awakened and I will be annoyed by the frames my wonderful housekeeper rearranged in the symmetrical style she favors and I abhor – I don’t like things to be straight. Or I will wonder why I have kept all these years a particular object whose provenance is long forgotten.
On one of those weeks, I consider the shells as I pee in the guest bathroom. If I were to apply the Marie Kondo test, I would ask myself if they spark joy (incidentally, I have come to the conclusion that the Kondo method is much better suited to tiny Japanese apartments than sprawling American houses, where spending time evaluating every piece of crap could turn into a full-time job).
The shells do not spark joy – they have been stuck in a hardly frequented room out of vague guilt at letting go of memories, as forgotten as they might be. Because they once contained living and breathing beings, I feel I owe them respect, if not a gathering of dust.
I suddenly remember a simple craft project I read months before in Sweet Paul Magazine, when I thought “Even I could do this”, albeit rather skeptical at the unorthodox method. It turns out it works.
On my next shopping expedition, I buy a head of red cabbage. I cut it into large pieces and boil it in water for about 40 minutes. I discard the cabbage thinking I can find ways to eat it (I don’t) and keep the water. The house smells like a Polish farm.
I drop the shells in the red water and add 1 T of vinegar and 2 1/2 T of salt for each cup of water and let the shells simmer at a low boil for 30 minutes. Then I leave them in the water overnight. As promised by Sweet Paul, in the morning the shells are a lovely hue of blue, brought back to new life. I can tell they are happy with their makeover, a gentle reminder of the depths of the world they came from.
I still don’t remember where they come from or why I chose to pluck them from the sand when I did, or who I was with, but they prompt me to rid the guest bathroom of objects I don’t like anymore, to change things around. I return the shells to the pretty ceramic dish and I prominently leave them next to the sink where guests will be washing their hands, where I wash my hands too every time I come home.
Do they spark joy? They spark a smile and an ebb and flow of memories I know will never be in perfect focus again but the ocean blue reminds me those memories are there and, once, those moments made me happy.