The Beach Gift

I looked at the clock on our 1988 Isuzu Trooper. It read 5:38am. I rubbed my eyes and looked around at my brothers. My younger brother, Mickey, was sound asleep. My older brother, Dan, was looking out the window to his left, watching the moon outside our vehicle.
Spring in Northern California was a mix of a number of things. We could expect rain, sunshine, mist from the ocean. But most of all we could count on the thick heavy fog. It settled in the valleys, and often rested along the coastline. That’s where we were headed now.
Each Saturday morning my mom woke up the three of us, ages 7 through 10, and bundled us up in the Trooper for our 40 minute drive to the ocean. We said we hated getting up early, and complained about it. But the truth was we loved it, once we got out onto the beach. This was a special time of discovery. We were looking for something specific, and the waves often brought us the gems we sought.
As we pulled into the parking lot for Dry Lagoon, our mom looked back and gave a smile.
“Looks like we’re the first ones today.” She indicated the empty spaces all around us. Each of us grabbed our gear. This included fanny packs or trash bags for carrying our findings, a flashlight of some sort for seeing, and a water bottle. The rule was that we must stay within shouting distance of one another. Other than that, the beach was wide open.
While the low tide might leave us any sorts of surprise, what we were looking for were agates. These small shiny rocks could be spotted amongst the millions of other rocks, sand, and debris, provided you knew what you were looking for. After six months of coming out every Saturday morning we were starting to get a good sense of it. My younger brother had great eyesight, and generally found the most obscure ones amongst the rocks. I was gifted with the vision from my mother, not my father, and would spend most of the morning drizzle wiping my glasses.
We walked across the parking lot and out onto the beach. All around us the ancient deadwood pieces lay, like a graveyard. They were the carcasses of giant cedars, washed up on the shore. Right as we reached the water we could see the headlights of several other cars pulling into the parking lot. The game was on. We started to run, wide awake now. Laughing and yelling at each other as we raced across the sand, intent on finding the treasures before anyone else.
Agates, as far as they went, weren’t worth much. You could in theory find one large enough to sell off, but everything we found were things that would probably sell for a few dollars at most. That’s not why we looked though. There was something alluring about the agate, a tiny rock with a pearly milk center, and which when illuminated by the sun, you could see through its milky core. They were beautiful, and came in an infinity variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They were mesmerizing to find.
On a good day we might come across a few dozen agates. Today was bound to be different.
I had barely begun strobing my light across the sand when I heard the first call.
“Found one!” It was Mikey, and that was his signal for letting us know he had gotten his first agate of the morning. I started to congratulate him when I heard the same sound from the other side of me. It was our mom, she had found one too, then my older brother chimed in with the same call.
I looked down, quickly scanning around me, desperate to be able to add into the chorus. That’s when I saw it for the first time.
My light shone oddly across a large object that reflected the light back to me. I ignored it at first, since my eyes wasn’t looking for anything larger than a coin. But something about it drew my eye. I scanned again, and bent down to look. It was a rock, a large one at that. I put the flashlight in my mouth and shone it at the rock. I bent down and began digging around it.
I couldn’t find where it ended. I dug for a minute, brushing around its edges, ripping away at the sand. My fingers were already starting to feel sore, and still I couldn’t get to the end.
“Hey guys!” I yelled.
Dan was closest, he started walking in my direction.
“Find one?”
“I don’t know. Look at this.” I motioned toward the large object in front of me, and he came in for a closer look.
“What is it?” He asked.
I shrugged, and pointed my light directly into the core. “It’s milky inside.” I said with bated breath.
A moment later we were all standing around it, digging down to its core. After ten more minute we finally unearthed it and could see it in all of its glory. An agate, the size of a small boulder, lay nestled in the rock in front of us.
“It’s gotta be at least three feet across.” Mikey said.
“Not quite, probably closer to two feet.” Dan answered.
“You don’t know that.” Mike responded, and glared at Dan.
“Oh oh stop it boys, it’s big, that’s for sure.” My mom said.
Just then we saw the flashlight of another beachgoer, about three hundred yards in the distance.
My mom reacted faster than I could have expected. Normally slow and methodical, she hurled herself at the rock and flung sand across it.
“Quick boys, cover it. Now.” She voiced in a hushed tone.
Dan caught on quickest, and began shoving dirt on from the other side. Not two minutes later we had it completely covered.
“Ok, now Mikey and Dan, I want you to go down that way, and start calling to each other that you’ve found some. Do it, quick.”
“But mom, I want to stay.”
“No Mikey, go with your brother. This is important, I’ll explain later.”
Then, looking at me, she said, “Nathan, I won’t make you lie, but I’m going to ask you to be quiet, got it?”
I nodded, and creased my brow.
“What are you going to do?”