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Sat, Oct. 19

Middle-aged Musings: Seashell dolls and powdered sugar date balls

Looking for seashells along a Maryland beach, just out of the reach of breaking waves, is one of my more vivid childhood memories.

My mother sometimes came along, other times, she watched me from her blanket, having given me rules for my walk like “do not go past the fourth lifeguard chair so I can see you.”

I carried my shell bucket – one of my collection of brightly-colored sand pails. By the time vacation was over, it would be filled.

My shell choices had to be perfect – no chips or marks. This wasn’t because I was a pint-sized perfectionist. These shells were destined to be Christmas gifts.

Mom taught me how to collect good shells, wash them and keep them safely stored until the Thanksgiving school vacation. Then, she’d spread them out on our table the day after Thanksgiving, looking through what I had brought home that summer.

She picked several similar white ribbed ones and put them aside for shell dolls. Larger shells were destined to become tree ornaments with glitter and ribbons.

For afternoons after that, she and I had a craft assembly business at the dinner table.

Throughout the year, she’d buy supplies for this endeavor when she had a few extra dollars or caught things on sale.

I never realized as a child, of course, that she looked forward to this yearly activity probably more than I did.

Mom found a shell doll for me once in an Ocean City boardwalk souvenir shop. I still have it. She was spray-painted blue, with a pink ribbon on her neck. She was $1.50. I kept the price tag on the inside of her shell skirt, too.

My mom figured she could make those pretty easily. She was right.

She’d coordinate our craft days with her Christmas baking. Our kitchen smelled of cookies and all sorts of yummy things.

Things that my 8-year-old self wanted to eat!

My fingers were often covered in craft glue and glitter clumps, so after a batch of her amazing date balls cooled, she’d roll them in powdered sugar and layer them in a container. It was a good assembly line: one for the container, one to pop into my open mouth as I worked. She was cool like that. It was totally worth the little tummy ache that came a bit later!

Our seashell dolls were my favorite thing to make. We always made a few each year for gifts to my best girlfriends or for my cousins and aunts.

The shell girls would have tiny wooden ball heads that my mom would paint faces on and pipe cleaner arms. Their skirts were three big shells glued upright together and their bonnets would be inverted shells behind their heads. A middle, smaller shell made up their body.

We’d spray paint various colors for our shell ladies – red, yellow, blue and green. They always looked like prim little Southern belles.

Memories like this are always triggered for me about the time I start shopping for the perfect turkey and picking out gifts.

What were your special holiday memories of your family? I’d love to hear from you to share in an article closer to the holidays.

Until next time, Robin

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