Once upon a time there was an old man named Gaff who lived all alone beside the sea. He had been a sailor when he was younger and he loved to hear the sound of the waves. He also liked to wander along the beach in front of his small cottage.
The Blue Box
On the beach, Gaff found many things that were tossed up by the waves. The things that he liked best were the many sea shells that came in with each tide. But there was one tiny pink sea shell that he found more beautiful than any of the others.
Every day Gaff went onto the beach and looked for the beautiful tiny pink shells. There were very few to be found, but he never stopped looking until he had found at least four, even if it took all day. Gaff kept the shells in a big blue box that he hid under his bed.
Every night, before he went to sleep, Gaff pulled out the blue box and counted his shells. And every night he had at least four more shells than he had had the night before. You might think that he could just add the number he found one day to the number he had had the day before. I'm sure he could have, because he was a clever man, but he loved handling each one of his lovely shells so much that he looked forward to the daily count.
Gaff couldn't remember when he had first started gathering the tiny pink shells, and he didn't have any idea what he would ever do with them. He just knew that they were the most beautiful shells he had ever seen and that they were also very hard to find.
Another old man, named Whem, lived farther down the beach. One day Whem asked Gaff why he collected the shells. Gaff didn't want to say that he didn't know why he collected them, so he answered: "Those shells will make me a rich man some day." Gaff didn't really think that they would make him wealthy, but the answer satisfied Whem.
One day Gaff met a poor lady, named Mava, on the beach. She was also looking for the tiny pink shells. Gaff asked her why she was looking for the shells. Mava said that they were very rare and that she made the shells into earrings which she sold to a jeweler in the city. The jeweler paid her a high price for each pair because they were so rare, and so beautiful.
Even though the jeweler paid Mava fair prices for the earrings, Mava had never been able to find enough shells to make more than two pairs of earrings a month. This did not bring in enough money to pay the rent on her little cottage and to buy food and clothing for herself and her mother. All Mava and her mother had for food, many days, was the clams and seaweed that she could find near the shore.
Although Gaff loved his collection of seashells more than anything in the world, he now knew why he had been gathering them for so many years. It was to help this poor lady and her mother.
He took Mava to his cottage. He pulled the blue box from under his bed and showed her the thousands of tiny pink shells. When he told her that she could have all of them, she said that she could not take such a valuable gift. She said that she would take only enough shells each day to make the money that she and her mother needed.
She also would take enough so that she could give a large sum of money to Gaff each week. Even though Gaff had enough money to meet his simple needs, he knew that it was important to Mava to give him something in return for his shells and his kindness.
Gaff kept on collecting the shells, but there were even fewer to be found than before. He stopped taking his blue box out from under the bed each night because it made him sad to see that, each day, he had fewer and fewer.
But Gaff was pleased to know that his shells had made Mava and her old mother happy. He was also happy that he had money to share with Whem and the other old men on the beach. But he was still unhappy when he remembered that his blue box would soon be empty.
Then, one day, he decided that he would start collecting another kind of shell. These shells were small and grey, and as round as buttons. They were not very pretty, but they were even harder to find than the tiny pink shells. Gaff still gave the pink shells that he found to Mava, but he was now most pleased whenever he found a grey shell.
Gaff put the last of the pink shells in a bowl on his table and started putting his grey shells in the blue box. Each night he would take his blue box out from under his bed and count his grey shells. And each night he would have more shells than he had had the night before.
Gaff now understood why he was collecting the grey shells. He was collecting them because he liked to collect things that were hard to find. And he liked to see his collection grow bigger each day.
When Whem asked Gaff why he was collecting grey shells, Gaff didn't say that they would make him rich.
He said: "I collect them because they make me happy."
Copyright Bill Rollans 1994 All rights reserved.
illustration by Mark Lore (age 13)
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