My friend Laura said I’d ruined it for her. I felt a little bad about that. It really was beautiful. But the truth is, it’s just not my style. Maybe when I was younger, but not now.
See, there is a seashell that I simply don’t like—and ironically, it is among the prettiest, hardiest, and glossiest on the beach. We ran across a whole slew of them while beach-combing after a storm the other day. Laura bent down and picked up a fat one—as big as half-smoked cigar—and I said, “Oh, I don’t much like olive shells.” She looked at me like I’d said I hate ice-cream, puppies and newborn babies. I knew I had some splainin’ to do.
Olive shells are striking to see, as they are—perhaps more often than any other shell—found completely intact; no dings or divots, no cracks or fissures. And they are often very glassy—as though they’ve been hand-polished and spit-shined. They retain their colors well—caramels and siennas and creamy ecrus. They come in sizes as small as a grain of risotto, to as large as my thumb. And they are common.
When I was a teenager, a young one, not yet old enough to drive, I would ride my bike from my house in Gulf Breeze, over the Bob Sikes Bridge, and west along the deserted beach road, all the way to Fort Pickens Point—about a 25-mile round trip. I was in search of solitude and seashells even then. One October morning, I happened upon a tiny island in a tide pool that was made almost entirely of seashells—all broken with the exception of the olives. There must have been a hundred of the shiny little cylinders, intact and gleaming. I gathered as many as I could fit in my shell bag and headed back home with my treasures.
That weekend I asked Daddy to drill holes in about 20 of them so I could thread them onto a metal hoop to make a “necklace.” I was so excited. Daddy, not so much.
Still, one cranky dad and about seven broken drill bits later, I had my masterpiece—a glossy semi-circle of seashells, smallest on the ends, gradually getting bigger toward the center. It was pretty.
And gaudy. And it weighed more than my head. I wore it once, to a surf movie (Tales from the Tube) at the National Guard Armory. I left midway through with a headache.
Olive shells still make my head hurt—okay, maybe not the olive shells themselves, but olive shell people really mess me up these days, and they, sadly, are every bit as common and attractive as the seashell.
Olive shells are alluring—so lovely from the outside. The mollusks inside are tricky; they pull their mantle flaps (their protective coverings) over the entire exposed surface of their shell, which is what makes them so glossy. In life, they are never without this mantle, or cloak. Olive shells are dense and tightly curled around themselves with a very narrow aperture or opening. The animal inside is predatory, but nearly blind.
Olive shell people are alluring too—so lovely on the outside. They are always meticulously put together and are never without their glossy cloaks. They are often charismatic and come across as friendly and compassionate. Who wouldn’t want a whole necklace-full of olive shell people in their life?
Did I mention that they are predators—and nearly blind? Ha!
I have had to learn some lessons the hard way. I’m such a sucker for a pretty shell—a friendly face. I have been accused (more times than I can count) of being too trusting. And it’s true, I likepeople, and I’ve always had a flair for noticing the good in everyone I meet. If I occasionally let that glimmering good eclipse the festering bad, well then, the price I pay is sometimes a broken heart. That’s okay.
An olive-shell-person broke my heart. It has happened more than once. It will happen again. A broken heart still beats. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I’d rather be a little broken and illumined on the inside, than tightly curled around myself in the darkness.
That said, I think I’m becoming ever so slightly more selective about the seashells that I bring home. In fact, I rarely pick up the “perfect” ones any more. I like to be able to see inside. And you cannot see inside an olive shell.
I’m not sure exactly when I switched over from seeking out seemingly perfect shells, to gathering only the broken ones, but it may have been about the time I started to apply the same policy to my friendships. The friends with whom I enjoy deep and intimate connections are the ones who are humbly aware of their cracks and fissures, do not try to hide them, and are tolerant, even appreciative of mine. They are earnest and honest in their journey toward growth. I see in them the values of humility, vulnerability, and self-awareness, without harsh judgment of others or self-pity. They know, as I know, we are all messy mortals. We help each other from a place of honestyand a desire to better serve God and one another.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand olive shells, and the people they represent to me. I know that the creature inside is only trying to protect itself with that narrow aperture and drill-bit breaking exoskeleton. I get that.
But I also get this: There is a predator inside. And it doesn’t see well. Some have no eyes at all. They have to smell out their prey to survive. While researching the creatures that inhabit the olive shell, I came across a passage that was so hilarious I suddenly forgave every olive shell person I have ever fallen prey to: When it ‘smells’ suitable prey, it emerges to engulf the prey with its large foot, smothering it with slime and then dragging it beneath the sand to be eaten at leisure.
HahahahahahaHA! Now that’s funny. If the “large foot” doesn’t get you, then the slime will.
Follow me on Instagram or Facebook (@sharladawnstoryteller) for images and musings from the beach at dawn. Also, pick up a copy of Island Times from any of a dozen or more Pensacola Beach shops and restaurants—enjoy my column—Sharla Dawn at Dawn.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
Angel’s Garden 1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
Mall area:Miles Galleries
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532