The Legend of the Sand Dollar


Walking slowly along the wet sand—hands in pockets and bare feet kicking the water that lapped at his toes—Guillermo (Gee-yer-mo) wished he had a present to welcome his friend Philip. Soon it would be time for Philip to arrive in Baja, California, after the trip with his family along the Oregon seacoast. Two years ago the two boys had been neighbors in Arizona. Will Philip be the same? he wondered. He was concerned that perhaps they wouldn’t still like the same things.

Guillermo stooped to pick up a flat, gray, roundish seashell almost hidden in the wet sand. It was a sand dollar! He turned it over in his hand with the feeling of awe and wonder he always felt when he thought about the legend of the shell. He slipped the shell into his jeans pocket as he heard the sound of his mother’s voice floating down from the bluff.

“Guillermo, it is time.”

He climbed the winding path up the bluff to their red brick home at the top and opened the heavy wooden door to enter a cool, tile-bordered room.

“Hurry, Guillermo, and help me set the table,” urged his mother. “Philip’s parents will want their lunch so they can be on their way to Cabo San Lucas. How nice that Philip can stay with you for a whole week!”

Guillermo had just finished putting a bright cloth on the table and had changed into a clean T-shirt when he heard a car pull into the yard.

“Here they are,” said his mother. “Tell Papa.”

“Papa, they’re here!” called Guillermo. Then he hurried outside, one hand in his pocket.

A red-haired boy ran toward him with a package in his hand.

Hola (hello), Guillermo, como está usted (how are you)?”

“I’m fine, Philip,” Guillermo replied.

“I’ve been practicing Spanish,” his friend explained. “Look what I brought you.” He shoved the package into Guillermo’s hand and said excitedly, “Open it, OK?”

Guillermo opened the package. Inside was a plastic flying saucer.

Muchas gracias, Felipe (many thanks, Philip),” he said, grinning.

Again he wished he had a welcoming gift for Philip. Then he remembered the sand dollar he had picked up. He put his hand into his pocket and drew out the flat seashell.

“I have a present for you, too, Philip. I’m sorry it isn’t wrapped.”

“I’ve never seen a shell like this before,” said Philip. “What is it?”

“It’s a sand dollar. However, some people call it a keyhole urchin. It’s found on the Gulf coast and Atlantic coast. After dinner let’s go to my room and I’ll tell you about it.”

Later when they reached his bedroom, Guillermo opened a shoe box on his dresser and took out a dry, sun-bleached sand dollar. “The legend,” Guillermo began, “says that this shell tells the story of the birth and death of Jesus.”

“How can a sand dollar do that?” asked Philip.

Guillermo pointed to the shell in his hand.

“The markings show up better on this dry shell than on yours. See, on the back there’s an Easter lily. In the center of it is the tracing of the star that guided the wise men to the Christ child.”

Guillermo turned the shell over. “Here on the other side are the markings of the Christmas poinsettia. In the middle are five holes, representing the wounds in Jesus’ body when He was crucified.”

“Wow!” said Philip, “that’s interesting.” Then, looking closely at the holes, he thought of something else and asked, “How does the shell move?”

“When it’s alive it’s covered with brown, hair-like spines, and it moves with them. It’s an animal like the starfish.” Guillermo pointed to a small hole in the bottom of the shell. “It takes food in through here.” He handed the shell to Philip. “Here, shake it,” he suggested to his friend.

Guillermo watched as Philip gently shook the shell and sand fell out.

“What’s inside, more sand?” asked Philip.

“No. Hold out your hand. Now watch.”

Guillermo broke open the sand dollar and out dropped several tiny white wing-like objects.

“They’re like folded butterflies made of ivory or bone!” Philip exclaimed.

“The legend says they are the white doves that spread goodwill and peace,” Guillermo explained.

“That’s really neat,” said Philip. “Can we look for more sand dollars on the beach?”

“Sure, Philip. Did you know that some women wear pendants of gold cast from real sand dollars? Other people thread sand dollars on strings and use them for wind chimes.”

“I can make a chime for my mother!” said Philip excitedly. “Or maybe I could make her a necklace for Christmas. Boy, Guillermo, I’m so glad I came!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Parry Merkley

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten