Shells of the Summer of ’62
by Joan Leotta
The soft ripple of low tide
rolled in to chill our toes.
Dad said the damp sand
was good for walking.
He pulled up the collar of my jacket.
Wind was pushing dark clouds our way.
There’d be no afternoon of sun and sandcastles.
We hopped over lines of soft white foam
zigzagging across the strip of brown sand
between our place and the ocean.
Gulls screeched, “Go back!”
I never looked up. My eyes were set
to hunt treasures in dawn’s tide.
At last I spotted something!
An orange fan! A perfect scallop shell!
Surf crashed with sudden interest in my search.
Foam fingers fastened on my prize,
pulling it back out into the ocean.
Without even rolling up his pants,
he chased the wave back out toward the rocks.
He bent over and put down his hand.
Another wave swelled up.
“Dad, look out!”
In another second he was completely soaked.
But he had my shell.
I have it still.
SOURCE: First published in Older Eyes, Younger Tongues, Anthology, Northwoods Press (1990), and shared with friends on Facebook a year ago for Father’s Day.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me (right) at the beach in Hyannis, Massachusetts, but a couple of years after the events of the poem—with my cousin, also named Joan.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Our family took a one week vacation every year. In 1962, when I was 14, my mother wanted to go to Cape Cod for our vacation. So, we drove 12 hours to Hyannis from Pittsburgh. I announced I was going to get up at dawn to hunt for seashells because I had read it was the best time to find them. My father gave up his vacation sleep-ins to get up with me. Every day.
After he died in 1987, my Mom found a box of seashells in our basement—my collection from that 1962 vacation. It was then this poem came to me. The actual incident never occurred, but the poem describes my dad so well that anyone who knew him, thinks it’s a real story until I explain. When I talk about poetry to school groups I often read the poem and then show the audience the shell pictured above right. Yes, I still have the box of shells. My Dad? Well, he is always in my heart. (Photo: The author’s father, Gabriel DiLeonardo.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Leotta has been writing, performing, and collecting seashells since childhood. Now that she lives near the beach, in Calabash, North Carolina, her husband thought she would stop collecting. He was wrong. Joan’s picture book, Rosa’s Shell (coming out in 2017 from THEAQ LLC) is based on this poem.