Household Hobbies: How the Family Search for Shark Teeth Made Us Find Each Other Instead
by Casey Cromwell
“Found one!” My fingers dive into the cold Neuse River, capturing the ebony tiger shark tooth hiding among the pebbles and shells. It’s a decent catch: the size of my pinky finger, edges smooth from dancing in the current.
I add it to our bag, hearing the teeth jingle as my dad, sister, and I walk. It’s November 2006, mid-morning. Though we’d trekked this beach dozens of times, our feet and eyes are no less eager to explore the miles of North Carolina sand. We don’t know what shark teeth we’d find: how many, how big, what kind or condition. We certainly don’t realize that our family hobby would double as family bonding.
Unlike other families who inherit hobbies we fell into collecting shark teeth. Literally. When the Marine Corps moved us to North Carolina in 2006, my family discovered that beach walks often entailed tripping over items hidden in the sand – including rocks, sea glass and, most intriguingly, shark teeth.
We enjoyed collecting shark teeth for their intrigue and historical ties. No day proved this clearer than when we found the Megalodon tooth. We found it on a rocky hill at the end of the beach, which we dubbed Wee-Wee Point for Hannah’s need to pee on our first visit. My dad, sister, and I found a black chunk at first mistaken for rock or litter, until Dad looked closer and said, “It’s a molar! See the ridges?”
Hannah and I scrambled over, staring at the object engulfing Dad’s palm. Now, this was a big find. And, as we learned later, it belonged to a 70-100 ton shark: the Megalodon, which dominated oceans 15 to 5 million years ago.
When asked about favourite shark teeth memories, Dad said he especially enjoyed this unified learning. We learned more than just shark facts and history, though. I discovered that my sister’s slow pace meant she spotted the smallest teeth and that Dad’s analytic mind could see possibilities, like the Megalodon tooth, I overlooked. And together, we learned to see the big picture of our roles in a unified family and in an ancient ecosystem.
My family especially needed this big picture when Dad was deployed to Iraq a few months later. We had the beach, but no Dad to search with us. So, when the military arranged a video chat, Hannah brought the beach to Dad. The Communications Room was plain and cold. Mom, Hannah, and I sat at a huge conference table; after a few false connections, a projector flashed Dad’s smile across the white brick wall.
We laughed. We cried. Then Hannah dropped her sand dollar fossil, roughly the size of a bowling ball, on the table with a loud thunk. We hadn’t found any more Megalodon teeth, but her fossil proved we hadn’t stopped searching. Instead of a fragmented military family, we were fellow fossil collectors. Dad emailed pictures of his “rock garden” in Iraqi sand; we replied with photos of the teeth found under rocks at home.
The morning I discovered the tiger shark tooth was an average walk, but an upcoming storm caused the lowest tide we’d ever seen. Trees usually swamped with water made perfect diving boards into the sand. Bumps and dunes, underwater caverns and seaweed clumps, and dozens of shark teeth sat exposed to the sun’s unfamiliar gaze. Back then, I was astounded to realize those treasures were hiding under the water the entire time. Now, I know I can say the same thing about the bonds in my own family.
Though Mom didn’t hunt for shark teeth as often, even she loved watching our jar at home slowly fill. Mom tells me she believes, “Searching together created a special place where we could go as a family to get away from everything bad that was happening.”
Shared hobbies illuminate life’s big picture, unify, and reveal hidden traits. They create a world where only one focus – a family’s shared passion – matters.
For my family, in looking for shark teeth, we found each other instead.
Casey Cromwell has published poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction in PLNU’s Literary Magazine, winning first place for creative nonfiction during her freshman and junior years. She also writes a successful blog and has written for Further Food, Beyond Celiac and San Diego Writers, Ink. She is currently a senior writing major at Point Loma Nazarene University.