Posts Tagged 'sharks tooth'

Toothing with Mimi

As what would have been my mother’s 94th birthday (January 18) nears, and housebound by the Blizzard of 2011, I am thinking of her, and of my snowless childhood in the Sunshine State. I wrote this in 2009.

In my early childhood, many days included a trip to the beach with my mother. Some days I came to swim or build sand castles, but often the churning sea was a decorative scrim, remarked only for the state of its tide — low tide being ideal for “toothing.”

By accident of prehistoric geography, the Florida beach town where I grew up is rich in fossilized sharks’ teeth. Vacationers line their suitcases with a bright array of scallops, clams and oysters, bivalves that the Atlantic disgorges split in half. Staunch shellers, pilgrims to the beach-combing meccas on the Gulf coast, would spurn the relics of a Ponte Vedra vacation.

Mom and I left mere shelling to the sunburned tourists whose blissful ignorance of sharks’ teeth worked to our advantage. Let them clamber over conchs with the ocean’s roar whistling inside: we kept our eyes peeled for more valuable unburied treasure. Make no mistake: our sharks’-toothing was a competitive sport, one where an 8-year-old and a 50-year old were evenly matched.

Beach Picnic, 1963

Heads down, we would pace the sand, eyes laser-focused to zero in on sharks’ teeth, black specks on the orange carpet of coquina. Trained by hours of toothing, Mom and I could readily distinguish all sizes and shapes of the tide-polished teeth from other black shells, imposters that conspired to fool our practiced eyes. To keep from poaching each other’s territory, we would hunt at a respectful distance, calling out triumphantly each time we scored a tooth. Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt when my younger, keener eyes gave me an edge over my acutely near-sighted mother, whose relative height put her farther away from the bounty at her feet. I eventually learned that it was unseemly to over-enthuse upon finding a small tooth, even though logic might argue that it was the proverbial needle in a haystack. In toothing, size definitely mattered, and the possibility of finding “the big one” was what kept us in the hunt day after day, year after year. Arriving home with stiff necks and sand between our toes, we would tally our respective takes before pooling our loot in a communal jar, claiming a proprietary interest only in exceptional specimens.

On my 18th birthday Mom surprised me with a gold necklace fashioned from one particularly fine tooth in our collection. I have worn it almost continuously since I left Florida for college and never looked back, and in the big cities where I’ve lived strangers regularly remark on my necklace. I enjoy their surprise when I tell them the tooth belonged to a shark millions of years ago and that I found it on a beach. Continue reading ‘Toothing with Mimi’


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