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Shell of a time

Posted February 12, 2014 in Community Featured, Des Moines West
Jack Harris holds a jar filled with shells he and his family gathered while  vacationing in Florida.

Jack Harris holds a jar filled with shells he and his family gathered while
vacationing in Florida.

Tucked away in Jack Harris’s garage amongst decoys for hunting, Christmas ornaments and tools sits a large jar full of seashells. The 30-pound glass jar holds a variety of shells from beaches on Sanibel Island in Florida.

Each tiny treasure was collected during annual vacations that started in 1958 and continued 51 years later until a final trip Harris, now 82, took with his wife, Bev, in 2009. It took decades and several trips full of great memories to completely fill the jar. Harris wasn’t alone in this quest however. His children and grandchildren helped along the way.

The trips started when a supervisor at Harris’s workplace offered the family an opportunity to stay at a condominium for a small price. Jack, Bev and their five young children hadn’t ventured far out of Iowa before the trip and were not sure what to expect.

“Coming from Iowa to Florida, it was a different world. We were in shock,” says Harris.

The Harris family enjoyed a new kind of world with tropical temperatures, high-rises and upscale dining.

“Normally we couldn’t afford those types of vacations. We were lucky.” says Harris.

For years, the couple would take their five children to the island to escape the Iowa cold during the harsh winters.

“It’s always good to get away from the world and the daily grind,” says Harris.

In the late 1980s they started taking their two grandsons to the island as well. Though the popular tourist destination is full of activities like tennis, boating and golf, Harris says his favorite memories are of the simplest pastimes.

“We would walk up and down the beach looking for shells with the grandkids. Those are some of my favorite memories… we fell in love with the place,” says Harris.

Three generations enjoyed days full of swimming, biking on trails that stretched for miles along the Gulf. Some years the family took trips to the Everglades to explore the wetlands and wildlife. Even when the Florida weather didn’t cooperate with the family’s plans, Harris still remembers his time with family fondly.

However, all good things come to an end, and now Harris has his extensive shell collection to remember the trips by. The shells have even taken over other rooms in his Des Moines home.

“They’re the best vacations we’ve ever had. We will never forget that place,” says Harris.

Contact Darren at 953-4822 ext. 304 or to recommend someone for an upcoming issue of “What’s In Your Garage?”

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