Jean Croker Petke

The Ocean on My Table

The Ocean on My Table

I’ve had the ocean on my table since July — ever since I invited a friend for a beach dinner because she was unable to attend our annual beach trip. I knew she would miss being with us at the beach — and I knew, that I in particular, would miss her terribly.

So I invited her to dinner. I loved figuring out how to have the beach at my dining room table. I made a centerpiece of shells and sand and beach glass that I’ve kept in my garage for decades — just for occasions like this. And I had a brass boat she’d given me many years before.

I prepared some of our favorite beach foods: pasta salad, watermelon, mango salsa, Texas toast, and I don’t remember what else. I’ve slept and traveled since then.

I filled a gift bag with a beach-read book, glitzy sunglasses, and a chocolate bar — all the necessities for a beach vacation — even though she wouldn’t be leaving home.

I’ve kept the centerpiece all these months because it reminded me of our beach party evening. And it reminded me of our over-forty-year friendship. And because it made me happy.



I complained to her last week that I was going to have to dismantle my dining room table beach scene. “Just put it someplace else,” she suggested.

“That won’t work,” I said, “because I need the mirror that holds the beach for the children’s tea on Sunday. And I really don’t want to get sand all over the place when I take it apart.” I was seriously dreading the gritty mess.

“You could take a photo of it,” she said, “then you’ll always have it.”

Perfect, I thought — and that’s exactly what I did.

I’ve written before about how we hold onto things because somehow we think the thing is the person. The thing is only a reminder. A photo can easily hold a memory. It takes little space and doesn’t add to the accumulation of stuff in our garages, attics and closets.

So I dismantled the ocean on Saturday. The mess was much less than I anticipated. I worked on a tray, which caught any errant sand. The shells and beach glass have returned to a small box in the garage, for the next time I need an ocean in my house.

Windex restored the mirror’s sparkle.

The ocean mirror became a garden, for the children’s tea. The reflection of blue and white pansies transformed my table into spring even though it’s late fall. Outside, frost  and colored leaves covered the ground. On my table, it’s spring.

I’ll keep spring until the flowers wilt. Then I’ll clear it all away in time for Thanksgiving.

But not before I’ve taken a photo to save the moment.

Keep your memories, not the stuff.

Until next Tuesday . . .