The Cowrie Shell

A few months ago I was “de-cluttering” a room in preparation for new flooring.  Taking down some boxes from a closet shelf I opened them up, as I hadn’t the faintest idea what was in them.  One of the boxes contained “stuff” from my childhood: a grammar school book cover, a paint by numbers drawing, and other odds and ends.  But what stood out for me was the large cowrie shell. It immediately brought back memories of my mother showing me how to hold it to my ear so that I could hear the wind on an ocean beach!  I recall my delight of hearing the wind and imagining far away oceans from my Chicago city apartment. And I think of my mother’s imagination and creativity, being woven into me through such frequent experiences.  Today, after years of traveling to many beaches around the world, I can’t hear or see what I heard then with the same wonder, but I’ve kept my cowrie shell in a box of memories.  Why?

My cowrie shell contains more than the wind on a far away beach.  It is a connection I have to my mother and the ability she had to take little everyday things and imagine their possibilities. Having little money never limited my mother’s imagination, nor mine.  The cowrie shell was an “evocative object.”  Sherry Turkle edited a book called “Evocative Objects: Things we Think With in which she says evocative objects are those “emotional and intellectual companions that anchor memory, sustain relationships, and provoke new ideas”. Until I read her book I had no idea that my cowrie shell had, in a sense, been written about. I only knew that it was important enough to me to “hold on to.”

We hold on to the things we have some attachment to, some dependency on, or that recall relationships.  We keep them because we simply feel good having them around, even if only in a box where we can discover a part of ourselves again when we least expect it.  As I sit writing this essay today, I see my cowrie shell next to my iphone and smile at the ironic connection between them. Wonder and imagination creates our futures.  Guess I’m keeping my cowrie shell for the rest of my life.

What “things” do you keep somewhere that are treasures to you and no one else? Maybe others would think of it as junk that should be thrown out. I hope you have something that anchors you to someone you loved, to some place or experience you treasured, or perhaps to your history or ancestry as a person.  You may want to write about your special “evocative object” as I’m now doing and re-experience the relationship you have with it and how that becomes you.