By Susan Spicer-McGarry
To say that Shelli Centra has her hands full would be an understatement, because they are. Her hands are full and overflowing with treasure.
“Growing up, the beach was not a thing for us,” recalls Shelli. “My family went on other types of vacations.” That changed when she met her future husband. “Ronnie introduced me to the beach and Long Beach Island. His aunt, Julia Elmowsky, owned a house on 18th Street in Ship Bottom. His family rented houses on that block.” Eventually, Shelli, Ronnie and their sons, Ben and Jake would come to 17th Street, spending two weeks every summer in Ship Bottom.
“From the time our children were very small we spent a lot of time together on the beach,” says Shelli. “Our annual summer vacations on LBI are our best memories, and sea glassing was always an integral part.”
Walking along the water’s edge Shelli and her boys would search for sea glass treasures in the sand. But the treasures they gathered were more than frosted shards of glass, they were the joy of time spent together and memories made. Halcyon memories of beach tousled hair and laughter on the ocean breeze, sun kissed noses, and small sandy fingers entwined with hers that she placed in her heart for safe keeping.
A few years ago, Shelli’s son, Ben, wrote Sea Glass Song as a birthday gift for Shelli. “I am not an overly emotional person… but I guess you could see how much it meant to me—it brings me to tears whenever I listen to the lyrics. It reflects the essence of my relationship with my boys. The words came from my son’s heart to mine, and it is so special to me. I am touched that he remembers those moments.”
This summer the family’s treasures will increase ten-fold as Ben and his wife, Lauren are expecting their first child. “And now that Ben is about to welcome his own son into the world,” beams Shelli, “I can hardly wait to introduce my grandson to the beaches of LBI, and the joy of sea glass hunting!”
Life is made up of moments spent and memories made. Each a precious treasure to be placed in a pocket for safe keeping against the rising tide.
Last summer, Shelli’s sea glass treasures grew exponentially. One of the highlights of the annual Sea Glass and Arts Festival in Ship Bottom is the opportunity to win a very large jar filled to the brim with genuine sea glass by guessing how many pieces it contains. Shelli was the co-winner, sharing the bounty of sea glass treasure with Rena DiNeno of Cedar Bonnet Island. “It was a unique sea glass experience I will never forget,” said Shelli. “I couldn’t help but sort through all the sea glass and look over each piece. I was up until 12:30 am — way past my bedtime.”