The Truth of a Junonia

Ex­cerpt from a mem­oir Beau­ti­ful and nec­es­sary for sur­vival

Cape Coral Living - - Cape Departments - BY PAULA MICHELE BOLADO Paula Michele Bolado is a writer and pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tor in South­west Florida.

As soon as the waves pulled back, thou­sands of rain­bow-col­ored co­quina shells glit­tered or­ange and gold along the shore be­fore quickly bur­row­ing back into the sand. Hold­ing co­quinas in his hands, Ai­den laughed at the feel­ing. I re­mem­bered at his age what it felt like to scoop the tiny co­quinas which wrig­gled down into my palms when I was a child grow­ing up on the is­land. His slim, 4-year-old body was cov­ered from head to toe in white sand and bro­ken shells. High­light­ing his smil­ing face were the col­ors of the beach—a per­fect cre­ation, as if the sea it­self had formed him from wa­ter and sand. He asked me to dig a hole with him. I sat be­side him, just us, on our va­ca­tion, with­out any other fam­ily. Here on Sani­bel, as the sun started to set, all we needed were the sand, the wa­ter, the shells, and each other: mother and child. Shells cov­ered the beach­scape in patchy blan­kets of tans and creams. We dug our toes in the soft damp silt of the beach and watched the sand­pipers dance along the shore. As we scooped away at our hole, Ai­den no­ticed an olive shell be­side my toes. This type of tulip snail is olive shaped, glossy, with a brown­ish-gray ex­te­rior and an un­du­lat­ing per­fect whorl shap­ing a pink, pointed tip, and lastly speck­led with spots of black. I had never seen such a shell. “How are shells made?” my son asked. “Well,” I started, think­ing care­fully how to say this: “They are formed from the an­i­mal in­side, giv­ing it pro­tec­tion from the ocean, where cur­rents and preda­tors could harm its life. As the an­i­mal grows, so does the shell it car­ries like a house.” My son nod­ded while he turned the shell around in his hand, the sun glint­ing off the enamel. The shell in my son’s hand had been

My mother never wanted to buy the shell— the junonia was some­thing to dis­cover.

through some chal­lenges―we ob­served the scratches along its back and the small hole that pen­e­trated its hard ex­te­rior. Such a hole, as small as it was, could make the en­tire shell vul­ner­a­ble. “I’m sure this an­i­mal tried to fix its house,” Ai­den said as he picked it up. The spots on this olive shell re­minded me of the junonia from the same tulip snail species … but more rare. My mother and I spent years comb­ing the beach for the junonia. This palm-sized shell ringed with large gi­raffe-brown spots nor­mally lives off­shore. But on rare oc­ca­sions it washes to the beach as an empty ves­sel. Sani­bel Is­landers prized it for its rar­ity, its beauty, and the ad­ven­ture in find­ing one. My mother never wanted to buy the shell―the junonia was some­thing to dis­cover. The rare junonia shell is usu­ally found af­ter a pow­er­ful storm. Find­ing one is a gift com­ing at the end of an evo­lu­tion­ary cy­cle of the shell’s life; from the an­i­mal to a speck of sand, to a cham­ber of beauty, to the death of the crea­ture, to spin­ning around in a storm’s rag­ing wa­ters, un­til fi­nally the junonia is ex­posed as a gem­stone along the shore­line. My mother found that shell on her own one day and she be­lieved it was a re­demp­tive sign at the time when she was rais­ing me alone. The name of the junonia shell refers to the Ro­man God­dess Juno, pro­tec­tor of the well-be­ing of women. As an im­mor­tal be­ing, Juno is de­picted as a woman of ma­jes­tic size and beauty. She ap­pears in Shake­speare’s play The Tem­pest, as queen of the gods, and her name is used in the movie Juno, which is about a teen nav­i­gat­ing through an un­planned preg­nancy. I thought about those things, about Juno, the junonia shell, about my mother who had passed away, and looked to Ai­den, who was still dig­ging into the sand with the olive shell tucked into his pocket. My marriage was end­ing and I was go­ing to be a single mother; the sit­u­a­tion hov­ered over me like an ap­proach­ing Gulf storm. I had a hole in my own shell that needed re­pair­ing. There were dark days ahead for us, but at the mo­ment I was present with my son, con­tem­plat­ing the beauty and strength that shells with­stand as they tum­ble out of the ocean and into our palms as keep­sakes. Af­ter life had shifted for us, I kept that olive shell and oth­ers like it nearby to re­mind me that re­pair­ing holes is beau­ti­ful and nec­es­sary for sur­vival.

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