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Yesterday, I was with my son looking for an aquarium store about forty minutes away from our house. My son has a saltwater aquarium and we heard through the grapevine of aquatic enthusiasts that they carried some beautiful corals. So we decided to go on an adventure to this small Ohio town that we’d never been to.

It’s interesting how your mind gives you a visual of where you’re going when it really has no idea. There was no Google image of this store, so we had to imagine it. We both pictured it located in an old building, in an old downtown. Boy we were wrong.

Instead we found ourselves driving down a winding country road. My GPS suddenly said that we had arrived at our destination and I caught a glimpse, at thirty miles per hour, of a dark brown wooden sign with the word “Marine” on it. I quickly turned in. To my right was a seventies rust-colored brick ranch house with a farmhouse behind it and another building in the distance. I parked the car and opened the door. We were greeted by two big dogs, a Golden with a red bandana that looked friendly, and a large mutt with the face of a Great Dane that I was a little wary of.

“Come on, Mom,” my son said. “They’re nice dogs.”

His words put me at ease. He knows me too well, I thought. We stepped out of the car and the dogs nuzzled us repeatedly, barely letting us out of the parking area.

Next we had to figure out where the marine store was. I had that creepy feeling, like we could be misinterpreted as trespassers. I didn’t want to open strange doors—I didn’t want us to get shot (On the way here we’d passed several gun stores.) How sad, I thought, that I have to worry about that.

I took out my phone and called the store, but no one answered.

“Mom, it’s over there.” My son pointed to a sign.

“Are you sure? I don’t want us to get shot,” I blurted out.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s here,” he said, looking at me like I was worrying too much, which it turned out I was.

We opened the door to a building that looked like a big wooden shed. Inside we saw tanks filled with fish. A big puffer in a lone tank stared at us like we were lost.

“Hello, hello,” I called. There was silence and I continued to feel uncomfortable. Was there anyone here?
As we turned down an aisle and walked toward the back, we saw two men in the distance looking at Corals. They must not have heard us over the hum of the tank pumps.

“Hi,” one of the men said. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” I said. “We’re here to look at some corals.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he said. “I’m helping this gentleman. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

My son and I gazed at the mysterious corals. They were lined up in six rows of big, long trays, far from their ocean beds on a farm in Ohio. They seemed well taken care of and we gazed at their delicate beauty that reminded me of my parents’ beautiful glass paperweights that I was entranced with when I was a child. The water gently lapped across each coral that was made up of miniscule orange, green and red buds. Each one is a world of its own, I thought.

I was happy that we’d made the trip. Looking at the water and the corals and the occasional fish swimming through the flat bed tanks was peaceful, even though the getting here had been a little dicey. It’s funny, I thought, how when we come back again, we will never feel like a stranger here. We will already have learned how to get to the store, said hello to the dogs, met Jack, and made some of these corals our own.