Smelly Socks: The conch shell bellows in a tradition

Sept. 12, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.

Austin and Jamison stand  not so happy about the blowing of the conch.

Austin and Jamison stand not so happy about the blowing of the conch.

Every May, I get concerned about the end of school and the change of routine that invades our household.

We do not have to get up as early in the mornings, and our days are not filled with all the things that have to be done within certain deadlines. As with most things, it is always fun and exciting for the first week or two, but then my "mom-ness" sets in, and I crave some structure for sheer harmony and survival's sake.

I dread being the bad guy in this situation. I am the virtual summer policeman, the one they see as ruining their summer of blissfully sleeping away the morning and being completely responsibility-free until that first day of school.

I can hear the whines and complaints coming from Austin and Jamison with remarks like "She-Devil" or "Who made you president?" I have to remind them that our home is not a democracy, it is a monarchy, and I am the appointed queen.

I take my morning job very seriously. I set my alarm for a reasonable hour, I get up and flick the lights on, turn the TV to the morning news and ask Austin to take The Mighty Thor out to take care of his morning business. It is actually kind of fun to watch their eyes fly open in terror as if they have just been thrown into ice-cold water with this abrupt change to their declared summer sleep routine.

The implementation of "the most horrible routine" as the boys not so politely call it, had its humble beginnings from my father. When I was 16, my parents brought me along on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 25th anniversary. One of the ports of call was Nassau, Bahamas.

As we were walking back to the ship after a long day of exploring the island, there was a little dingy boat with some young men selling conch shells. To get the attention of potential customers, one of the men was blowing through the shell, making it sound just like a horn.

My dad was intrigued and walked over to see the various large shells for sale. My dad inquired about the horn sound coming from the giant shell, and the man told him, "Ah, Pops, it takes lots of practice, Pops. I am a professional, Pops." My father had never been called Pops by anyone, and he didn't necessarily appreciate being called that by a shell salesman.

He picked up the conch shell and with puffed out cheeks, the loudest, clearest sound rang out. My dad was sold on that shell, and the salesman seemed shocked and more than a little pleased. A crowd of other people who were also heading back to the ship, gathered as they heard the loud bellow that my dad's conch shell produced, and they also began picking up various shells from the men in the dingy.

As we waited in line to board the ship, my father was asked to give his fellow passengers lessons on how to get the horn sound from the shell. Maybe one or two could actually do it, but I must admit that my dad could produce the loudest and clearest of the bunch. Little did I know that that conch shell would become a huge part of my morning routine growing up and, now, my children's own special routine.

After the cruise, my father took great pride in waking me up most mornings with a loud bellow coming from his conch shell. On one such experience, a sweet and unsuspecting John got to personally witness one of my father's famous bellows.

One night when John and I were dating, he spent the night upstairs with my brother. The next morning, my dad decided that it was time that we all come to breakfast, he reached for the conch before my mother could stop him. My dad, trying to set precedence with my then-boyfriend let out a truly impressive bellow.

Suddenly, everyone was awake, and we heard some loud bumps, bangs and stumbling noises coming from upstairs. At the breakfast table, my father, with a certain look of contentment in his eyes, asked John what he thought about the conch. My brother burst out laughing, relaying how John sprang up from a dead sleep and lost his footing. He then stood up straight at attention thinking he was back in his National Guard days and that bellow was his wake-up call.

As I implemented our summer early wake-up routine, I went to the bookcase to retrieve the most revered conch shell. I put the conch to my lips and a smile stretched from ear-to-ear as I puffed out my cheeks and let out a clear, steady bellowing sound that echoed throughout our house. The bellow was not quite as grandiose as my father's, but it was impressive all the same.

The sound reached my boys' ears, and their reaction truly made my morning. Jamison, my 9-year-old, pounced to his feet covering his ears with his hands while his little feet ran in circles until I stopped blowing the shell.

As I walked past his room, I saw him reaching for his glasses as he finished pulling on his shirt. His blond hair was standing up straight, and just like he always has, he woke up smiling, ready to tackle the day.

Waking up my older, slightly grumpier son is a different experience all together. I walked into his room, and he prefers the "play dead" method. He thinks, in his sophisticated mindset, that if he ignores me I will simply leave him alone. He remained motionless in his bed. I get right up next to his bed and let out another bellow.

With that, he pulled the pillows on top of his head and covered his ears, as he called out an insincere, "OK, OK, I am getting up." I walked back to his doorway and stood with my hands on my hips.

He remained motionless in his bed thinking that he won the battle, and I left. I clearly say, "I am taking a deep breath, and the shell is getting very close to my mouth." He then relays a pitiful plea of "No. Please, just no. Don't do it!"

His blue eyes gradually open and he grumbles under his breath something about his summer being completely ruined. He grabbed his clothes and arrived at the breakfast table extremely disheveled and certainly not too happy.

Since we only have one conch shell, I wonder which boy will try to confiscate it and make it their own to use in waking up their own sleeping children? It will be up to them to tell their children about the "the most horrible routine" and how the conch blowing got started in the first place.

Johanna is a proud seventh-generation Texan. She lives on her family's South Texas ranch with her husband and two lively boys. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at



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