For all the effort and fanfare my parents put into my childhood, I'm most sentimental about some of the lower-key indulgences, the ones that had nothing to do with how I was dressed or what kind of party our family could throw. We have a beach house in Malibu, and whenever we went there, my mother and I would walk out to the end of our beach to pick shells. (This is the same beach house where Dean Martin, my Uncle Bean, came to stay for a summer during his divorce. He was a huge golfer and traveled with a stockpile of golf balls that had his autograph printed on them. Every morning he'd set up a driving range on the private beach in front of our house and shoot golf balls into the ocean. People from all sides of the beach would be diving into the water to collect those golf balls as souvenirs, but Uncle Bean would just keep hitting the balls, completely oblivious.)
Anyway, whenever my mother and I went shelling, she always brought her purse, which wasn't suspicious since she smoked at the time. I'd hunt for shells and she'd urge me on, pointing me to spots I'd missed. It never took me long to find a few big, beautiful, polished seashells. I was always telling my friends that Malibu had the most amazing seashells.
My Malibu illusions were shattered when I was twelve. We took a family trip to Europe, but because my father refused to fly, we took the scenic route. It started with a three-day train trip to New York in a private train car attached to the back of a regular Amtrak train. We brought two nannies, my mother's assistant, and two security guards. From New York we took the Queen Elizabeth II to Europe. I loved the boat — it had a shopping mall, restaurants, and a movie theater — but what excited me most was that they had little arts-andcrafts activities scheduled for the kids. It was the closest to summer camp I ever got. (It was also the farthest from home I ever got. Every other family vacation was spent in Vegas, mostly because you could get there by car.) In England we made the tourist rounds: Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussaud's, and so on. Of course, when my mother saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London she commented, "I have a necklace bigger than that." It was true. She did. But I was talking about the breaking of the Malibu seashell mythology.
In England I was reading OK! or Hello! — one of those gossip magazines that were more respectable back in the eighties — and I came across an interview with my parents. In it my mother talks about how she used to buy exotic seashells and hide them for me on the beach in Malibu. Total shock to me. So much for the beautiful seashells of Malibu. You know your family doesn't exactly communicate well when you find out things like this in weekly magazines.