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Samolina, the hermit crab with nine lives

FemaelstromAlison Osius

Every evening at the beach last summer we walked the boardwalk, and Sam, 3, pressed longingly up to the hermit crab display.My sister Lucy, his mother, eventually consented. Sam shyly pointed a finger at the nearest crab, a little tan dullard. Lucy said, “What if we keep looking for a minute?” She pointed out a pink, yellow and lime-green whorl in the back, climbing robustly all over the other crabs and up the sides of the cage. Sam chose that one, then, naming it: Samolina.”How do we know it’s a she?” I asked feebly.”Because her name is Samolina!” my mother explained with a wave.Samolina was destined for a rough life. First, as a radiant Sam walked away, the handle of the cage broke, dumping the occupant. (The store replaced the cage.)At our house, Samolina clicked about on the coffee table, four sensitive antennae waving, eyes extended on stalks, her sober navy-and-orange claws and four long black legs contrasting with her gaudy polka dots. Her shell tapped along behind her.Samolina was to be freed once daily, for exercise. Sam, who carried the cage everywhere, exceeded the quota, to admire her.The next day the crab pinched Sam. He shrieked and flung her across the room. The day after, she had been freed when Sam, roughhousing, broke his collarbone and was packed off to the hospital. Returning four hours later, we remembered her; there were tears. Fortunately, a grid search located her in a baseball cap.The next day my two boys and their Aunt Lisa were testing Samolina’s strength by holding her up with a piece of cloth, which happened to be Sam’s sling. Sam snatched it back; again Samolina flew.We returned from Delaware to my mother’s house in Maryland, a rambling Colonial loaded with nooks, chinks, and shadows. Samolina was next lost in our guest room when my mother snatched Sam away for some malfeasance. We found a flashlight (though Sam kept snatching and waving it upward). After an hour Lucy and Lisa found Samolina beneath a drawer.Sam then flew back to Colorado, and my mother set about finding a home for Samolina, of whom she had grown fond.She allowed Samolina to roam for a few minutes each day, especially in the kitchen. One day noting with alarm the darkness beneath the refrigerator, Mom rushed to block it with a towel, relieved to see Samolina hasten off elsewhere.The next day, “having learned nothing,” as she put it, Mom loosed the crab again. Samolina struck out.Then, silence. Mom grew frantic, checking the refrigerator blockade and next, under the radiator.A little square hole in the floor, “just the right size to swallow a lady inhabiting a very small pink house,” led down into the insulation above the garage.Mom nearly wept. Lisa and my stepfather, Fred, swept the hole with flashlights and penetrating fingers. Fred, who two years ago suffered a stroke, with surging strength mounted a ladder in the garage, examining the site from below, flinging insulation about. And there the sorrowful chapter ended: with Samolina’s apparent lonely entombment.Until two weeks later. As Mom visited her ailing next-door neighbor, the woman’s son Michael raised his head from breakfast and asked, “Did one of your grandchildren have a hermit crab?”Riding his mower on their lawn, a half-acre away, Michael had spotted a flash of lurid pink. He picked Samolina up, and bore her off to live in state in a tank with his lizards. Visiting home recently for my cousin’s wedding, I viewed her, then walked into the garage and looked up at the ceiling and, baffled, down at the concrete floor far below.Samolina has nine lives, or at least as many as she has claws. The morals of the story? Never give up hope. Always pick a good one. And, for us: no more hermit crabs.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com (write GSPI as subject heading).


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