The Old Man by the Sea

I was a young girl, just barely into my teens, when we briefly lived in a house on top of the cliffs that overlooked the ocean in San Clemente. School had not yet begun,,, but summer was fast drawing to an end. I would take the path down the cliff with my dog, Golden Boy for his daily romp into the surf. Oh what fun we had when I would throw out a tennis ball into the breakers, and he would bound into the waves after it ... fearless he was. On a particular foggy morning I turned back toward the path, and it was then that I saw him. He was sitting hunched over on a old wooden stool by the rickety old shack, gazing out to sea. His clothes were old, tattered, and torn and he had a cap on his head, encrusted with sweat and salt, a captain's hat from long ago.

I approached him and he lifted his head and the most crystal, clear blue eyes gazed upon me, piercing to my depths in a face so lined and weathered, I thought him to be a hundred years old. He was fingering shells that were lain out before him. His hands so gnarled and bent, yet he picked up each shell like it was the finest piece of glass. Without a word spoken he handed me a conch shell and gestured for me to put it to my ear so that I could hear the sound of the waves. I did and marvelled, he smiled and I smiled and I left with the shell clutched tightly in my palm.

Each day I returned looking for him because of his beautiful shells, but I never saw him again. Many, many years have passed and I can still see him intently looking out to sea, delicately caressing the shells. I realize now each line on his face told a story. The story of a young man on a beach overseas, rifle in hand. Too young to be so far away from home, yet still he stood and fought until the victory had been won. This hero returning home to a sweetheart left behind. Lines telling of hard work and long hours, of children born and of the constant longing for the sea. He could not stay away, he was drawn by the sight of waves crashing upon the rocks, the sound of the pounding surf in it's relentless desire to consume the sand beneath his feet, and the smell of salt air mingled with seaweed strewn along the beach.

Never a word was ever spoken between us, but I was the fortunate one to have been given the gift of his shell and the memory.

Donnali -- March 10, 1999