ON THIS DAY . . .
- . . . in 1816, Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire. In 1847, she wrote of her birthday: "I shall be thirty-one . . . my youth is gone like a dream; and very little use have I made of it."
- . . . in 1894, George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man opened to unanimous cheers of the audience, with the sole exception of one man who boos. Shaw bowed to the dissenter and said, "I quite agree with you, sir, but what can two do against so many?"
- . . . in 1910, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), 79, died in Redding, Connecticut, upon the reappearance of Halley's Comet, which had last shone in the year he was born.
- . . . in 2003, Nina Simone, American singer-songwriter, pianist and activist, died.
SECRET MUSIC . . .
Pictured above is a sea shell that was in one of the boxes my mother returned to me a couple of months ago. I have previously written about the contents of these boxes: my mother's love of art, her love of flowers, her love of hummingbirds, and her poetry. Of all things in the natural world, my mother seemed to love the ocean and most of the sea shells she collected are in my home. Note the top of the bookshelf:
Following is a short excerpt from a story in my memoir about the trips our family made to the ocean. I typed the first draft on April 22, 1993, 23 years ago tomorrow:
After eating lunch, my mother would take my hand as well as her bucket, trowel and tweezers, and lead me through the wind-sculpted dunes to a perch where we sat side by side in silence facing the water. Sometimes she would turn her head slightly toward me, as though she had something to say. But instead of speaking, she would begin to hum, and I knew she was listening, listening to the wind, to the waves, to the music only she could hear.
We always began our search for shells at the line of flotsam and jetsam marking the place where the churning tide had retreated. There my mother would fall to her knees and gently pull apart snaky tangles of seaweed to find tiny mollusks concealed in the folds and among the roots.
"Look, babies, baby conches," she would say as she plucked them from their moorings with tweezers. "Cream and tan, not cream and brown, and the spiral ridges are still pointed. Pointed, not lost. See the outer lip? Smooth, not jagged and sharp. These are babies, abandoned babies from deep, deep waters."
She would place one in my open palm, and I would trace the whorls with my thumbnail beginning at the apex. I looked, watched, and waited. Where was the abandoned baby? How did my mother know it was in this shell? What could she see that I couldn't?
I looked up and watched my mother turning over stones, planks, and driftwood. Sometimes small creatures would dart out, their refuge discovered until the next tide. She would look, probe with her tweezers, roll back the stone or driftwood, and then continue walking. What she wanted most of all were the live ones, ones that lived on the rocky shore, clinging under rocks while the tide was out. Or ones that lived on sandy flats, where they burrowed into the sand during the ebb tide. She would look for small holes; holes that had been created as the live ones, detecting her presence, quickly drew in their siphons, often ejecting a squirt of water. With one swift movement, she could scoop up the bivalve beneath the hole with her trowel and place it in her bucket.
"They are just babies. The ocean will wash them away," she would say. "They need a mother."