“They’re called jingle shells.” My mother held her palm open to show me the iridescent yellow coin-sized round ridged shells. “I’ve been collecting them—they’re all over the beach down here. I’m filling jars and making paperweights with them.” So like my mother, known by her preschool “kids” as Miss Barbara.
After she died, the glass jarful gave me and my sister pause as we cleaned out her Florida apartment. Another exclamation point in our long sentence of grief.
“Leave them,” I said. “We sold the place furnished. They are part of the décor.”
I wanted to add, “this sucks,” but that would have been stating the obvious.
I don’t pick the jingle shells up on my own beach walks in Connecticut, although I see them everywhere, like she’s traveled up the east coast to say hello. I collect beach glass. But one day recently I was at the beach with my former husband, his wife Samira, and their son. Samira’s cousin and his family were in visiting from Santa Barbara. I asked their 7-year old daughter Sierra if she’d like to take a shore walk with me. She was smart and witty, and, although I have two sons, they rarely take this stroll with me anymore. I was overjoyed that she wanted to join me.
I was scavenging for sea glass, trying to explain it to her, when she picked up something.
“What’s this?” she asked. “We don’t have these in California.”
“Ah, those,” I said. “Those are very special. They’re called jingle shells. You know, like jingle bells, but shells.”
She turned it over in her little hand, while the waves tickled our feet and the breeze tousled our hair. She ran her fingers over the ridges, looked up at me, and smiled. “They’re special?”
“Yes. My mother used to collect them and make special art projects with them. Pink, yellow, peach, white…Maybe you’d like to do that with them?”
She mulled this quietly for a moment, still looking at the shell, before she decided decisively and smiles at me. “Yes. That’s a good idea.”
“Good. Then let’s find some more. Do you know the word for the way they shine?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Iridescent,” I say.
She brought a baggieful back to the blanket.
“Wow! We walked a long way,” she said to her mother as she revealed her treasure. “Mom, these are ear-ri-deh-sent jingle shells.”
Her mother smiled.
The next day I walked the beach again, alone this time, and collected jingle shells along with the beach glass. I dropped another bagful off for her before she headed back home.
Samira recently sent me a text “from Sierra,” with a photograph of a fist-sized stone covered with jingle shells. I could not help tearing up, thinking how pleased Miss Barbara would be to see the tradition continue.