This past September, on a visit to Cape Cod., I had dinner with a cousin I last saw almost 60 years ago at a family picnic in Chesterfield , Massachusetts. I was 12 then and babysitter to a mob of cousins and siblings, all younger than I.
This cousin was son to an uncle who was a metallurgist and an airplane crash investigator. Collecting sea shells was his hobby, and when he died my cousin inherited a world of shells displayed in a cabinet against the dining room wall and just behind my chair at the dinner table.
After dinner my cousin gestured toward the cabinet.
“I want you to take any shell you want “, he said, “I know my kids won’t want them. They will probably sell them”.
There were elegant cowries and whelks and Triton’s horns from the Seven Seas, but I was certain he might regret the gift if he saw what I really wanted-
“Are you sure?”, I asked, and he assured me he was.
And this is the shell I chose-
This is the fabled Chambered Nautilus of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous poem-
“This is the ship of pearl, which poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings”.
This was a princely gift.