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Four generations share one affection

One bivalve, unhinged, holds a bar of soap by my kitchen sink. I found this one, I think, at age 6 on a Nantucket beach as I loped across wet sand.

Or was this my mother's shell? She carried the heavy things inland. They were not pretty like scallops, not well-designed like cowries or pastel butterflies. A mere clunk of a chowder clam bleached as gray-white as fogged sky.

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Scrubbed, a quahog shell is a dish for berry jam, for melted butter to go with crabs in a backyard feast, but mostly for slivers and slabs of soap bars. At least nothing's wasted here, not in her generation or mine.

But my daughter, who earns more and, I fear, spends and discards more, declines hand-me-downs. Yet in her powder room an old quahog shell holds rounds of scented soap.

And today the child of her womb - contrary, difficult, hardly fitting our pattern - begged to go to the beach. Wary of tantrums, still I hoped to build sandcastles and gather snails.

We did, all peaceful, and suddenly the child reached through swash of sea to fill her pail with quahog shells.