They wake up early in the morning to play together. They are little girls with smocked dresses and bows in their hair. They run around with high-pitched voices learning to share the toys they have brought, to the beach, to a family vacation.

Little girl cousins are a special thing. They are automatic playmates and best friends. They share genes and are beginning to share their lives, their growing up. They clamor to the beach with all their might, they play in the sand for hours, filling buckets, dragging water from the surf, and hunting for shells. They are adorable in their bathing suits and their skin tans easily even through super strength sun block. Their fathers or mothers take them into the water and hold them safely from the waves. The tidal pools are a perfect depth. Rafts are their best toys, but sometimes it is just their hands and the sand and saltwater. They get dirtier than they have ever been and never seem to notice the grittiness, the stickiness. They don’t want to go into the house even after hours of playing, but they love to rinse off with the hose, a semi grown up shower for a little girl.

Watching your nieces you relive your cousin time at the beach, at Salter Path Family campground, on the Bogue Sound. Your playground was the sound and your favorite things were floating on a raft on the calm water and clam digging. You and your cousins where obsessed with shells. You hunted them tirelessly throughout the days on the beach or at the inlet at the north end of the island. At the end of the shell hunts, you surveyed your treasurer. You memorized the shapes and names, the olives and whale eyes and baby cradles and cigarettes. It is years later that you realize, browsing through shell books that some names were made up by your mothers, sisters. The next morning, you woke up early to set up shop. You took boxes your mothers had packed in, turned them upside down, and laid old towels on top. You set out your shells by the side of the road in the campground. You sold seashells by the sound. You were thrilled with every purchase. After a few days of selling, you and your cousins and mothers would walk the path of the campground to the real shell shop near the main road. You were amazed with the polished shells. You bought cleaned sand dollars and gold-rimmed hermit crab shells and rope bracelets.

Your cousin still loves shells and houses them in glass jars in her home. You don’t need them around you anymore, but when you see shells or revisit the beach or see little girl cousins playing, you wish for the days at Salter Path, for the shelling and sound. You wish for you cousins and you hope the new cousins will long for their beach days and each other when they are older.

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