Seven jars of stones – and memories

Some of my favorite times by the shore each summer are rock-collecting walks with my family.

Smooth pebbles: Multicolored rocks adorn Weston Beach at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel, Calif.

My son Phinny saw the stone first. Round and luminous, it was the color of fresh milk, as white as the white of his young eyes. Barefoot, he toddled across the stretch of wet sand to where it lay all alone, a gift from the sea. When it was within reach, my boy bent over and grabbed it with his chubby fist, just in time, before the heave of the Atlantic could reclaim it. And that's how our stone collecting began.

My husband and I had bought a three-room Rhode Island beach cottage the summer before, when Phinny was an infant. Set in a leased-land community of 400 other humble houses, it's a place of block dances, penny socials, and, every Fourth of July, a joyously clanging pots-and-pans parade. After our first summer spent building dozens of sand castles and many new friendships, we felt blessed to belong to a beach community that recalled a coming-of-age novel.

But some of my favorite times by the shore have been the early morning stone-collecting walks with my husband and children. This is now our eighth summer, and each year we choose a color. Phinny got us started with white that first year. But by September's end, when it was time to board up the house for the winter, we were reluctant to part with the brimming bucket of stones by our cottage door. So we selected our favorites, just enough to fill a glass jar, and returned the rest to the ocean.

Our green-eyed girl, Addie, was born the following summer, inspiring us to search the morning beach for moss-colored stones. While less obvious than the white ones, they were no less lovely. That was also the year friends became involved. They saw us trolling the beach, heads bent, eyes peeled, and wanted to know what we were looking for. Soon neighbors were presenting us with green stones they had found. Sometimes they would leave them in the bucket by the door. In September we created a second jar for saving.

The year that 4-year-old Phinny lived for the sight of Harley Davidsons vrooming down our street was the summer of black stones – as black as the sleek body of the motorcycles that so captivated him. In subsequent years, there have been gray, white with black stripes, yellow, crystal-colored moonstones, and this year – my choice – orange. The mineral content of the sand in Narragansett Basin makes our color choices endlessly diverse and interesting.

But perhaps more than the stunning colors are what those seven jars of stones mean to us. Each one represents a summer that our family spent at the beach among friends – friends who share our love of the shore, who recognize the value and charm of simple traditions, and who know that memories of long July days walking the beach together and searching for stones by the water's edge will stay with us long after sweet summer days have passed.

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