Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guest Post- "Hubbo" weighs in on "clamming" :)

Whenever we go on an overnight, long weekend, or vacation, things just seem to happen to us. It’s especially true when the kids are with us. At the time things are happening, we can’t believe it and wonder how we got into this mess. I can’t tell you how many times I wondered if we were starring in the next National Lampoon’s Vacation movie. The great thing is, after all is said and done, the memories from these excursions will last a lifetime.

What a classic "Breton/Griswold" adventure this one all started with good intentions, though. Holly has "clam digging" on her bucket list, and asked me if I would ever do it. I said of course, thinking that maybe it might not ever happen. But I'm a pretty good husband, so....when she came to me and said "Let's go clamming as a family on the 4th of July weekend in Gloucester" (first of all, it just sounded disturbing) , I agreed. The next thing I knew, she'd done her research (shocker!) and gotten the low down on where and when to get the shell fishing license for the day. Then this big box arrives via UPS, and inside it is a clam digging rake baskety thing, followed the next day by a metal clam basket. I was starting to wonder if we were going to do a fun family activity, or start a business......

I happened to tell my parents in passing what we were planning to do, and got a call back from my Dad two days later, asking if he and my mother could go also. Turns out my Mom has always wanted to dig her own clams, too (is this a woman thing, or just the women my Dad and I are married to thing?). We decided it would be best if Holly and I checked it out first on Saturday, and then we could all go back on Monday (a second one-day license was required, but it was Mom’s birthday—what a great gift idea. I can’t take credit for that idea—it was all Holly’s). Suddenly, we were going to go clamming as an extended family. Incidentally, is “clamming” even a word? Anyway……..I digress.

When the day arrived, we went to Gloucester early, to get a couple of hours of clamming in, using the clam digging rake baskety thing to fill that bushel basket with clams. That way, we could have a family clam bake at home the next day. Then we’d go back on Monday and grab another bushel full with my parents. As it turned out, my Mom, ever the meteorologist, checked her charts and decided that it would be far too hot to go on Monday. Holly and I decided that we would go back without them Monday and get their clams for them. We’d be professional clammers by then, and surely would have more than enough between the two days for a huge clambake, Breton style! took us 2 hours, 1 map, a GPS, and 2 old Gloucester fisherman/auto mechanics to find a river bed at low tide to start digging. Why we had the map, I don’t know. Maps are a guide to get from one place to another—this map was so confusing; we had no idea which end was up or where these clam beds were located. When we found a couple, there were signs posted that said “No Shell Fishing--$300 fine”. Then why the hell were they on the map? Driving in circles around Gloucester, we finally happened upon this industrial building all by itself surrounded by trees (insert Deliverance music here). There were two old men, wearing suspenders, sitting in the office in the dark. This was some sort of auto body shop—probably a chop shop, and I was concerned when they saw me looking in the window and waved at me to come in that I might get chopped….
After what seemed like an eternity waiting for Old Man Fisherman Mechanic #1 to get his computer fired up (he literally asked the other guy, Old Man Fisherman Mechanic #2, “how do you fire up this computer?” and the answer he got was, “You gotta shake it a bit!”), I was ready to leave when he said that the river bed just across the highway had the best clam beds around. He offered to Google to see when low tide was, and I was starting to think that he did know what he was talking about after all. He said, “Come around here”, motioning me to come around the counter between us and look over his shoulder for the tide charts. I almost tripped over part of the carburetor from a ’77 Impala. I looked and the computer was indeed headed for, albeit very slowly, on what looked like the oldest computer in the universe. Sure enough, the site did come up…and right there on the screen was a bottle of laundry detergent! Old Man Fisherman Mechanic #2 laughed, which seemed to annoy Old Man Fisherman Mechanic #1, and I was concerned that they might actually fight. If not for the fact that neither of them seemed capable of getting up out of the desk chairs they were sitting in, it might have come to blows. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Finally, came up and low tide was right now—perfect! Old Man #2 was now drawing me a map that looked like something my two year old could have done, and suddenly my phone is ringing. It was Holly, and I just answered and said, “I’m almost done—be right out” and hung right up, not wanting to prolong my stay at the chop shop. Now both old Men are trying to direct me to the river bed, telling me that if I stood on the roof of the building, I could see it. At this point, if I HAD been on the roof, I would have jumped, and then… phone rang again. Guess who? I hit ignore (sorry, Sweetheart) and thanked the men for their help, mumbling something about “my wife keeps calling, you know how it is”, with a nervous laugh that suggested I was a little creeped out by the dark, dingy chop shop office and the two old choppers (actually between them, they might have had one complete set of choppers, but I digress yet again). As I walked out the door, my phone started to ring again, and I looked to my left and, in an open bay door with an old truck sticking half way out of it, I see Holly on her phone, looking all scared, trying to find me before Dueling Banjos starts playing. I love that woman.

Surprisingly, the 3 kids waited in the car through the whole search as well as the ordeal at the chop shop, and none of them complained—not even the two year old. Now that I had some stellar directions to the best clam bed in Gloucester, just a “stone’s throw” (Old Man Fisherman Mechanic speak) from where we were, I was ready to get on with this family fun. We drove down the road, got back on the highway we had been using to circle the entire North Shore, and got off just after the first exit. The Old Men weren’t kidding when they told me to ride the breakdown lane or risk missing it. There was an opening in the guard rail we had to drive through, and we were 20 feet from the clam bed. I got a little excited because I could see, due to low tide, that there were pieces of clam shell all over the place. This was going to be quite a harvest! We all hopped out of the SUV, and while Holly and the kids got their water shoes/Crocs on to protect our feet from the mud we’d be stepping in, I assembled the clam digging rake baskety thing and pulled out the bushel basket, ready to dig me some steamers! I could see myself later at home, pouring some beer into a pot and steaming those bad boys and melting some real butter. Then we’d all eat them with great pride, knowing that we could live off the land and sea if we had to. (You should see the tomatoes, basil, and mint we grow on the deck every year).
Sometimes the youngest children have wisdom well beyond their years. The two year old was in a small stroller art the edge of the clam beds as we prepared to walk down the little hill. The look on her face said “What are you doing? What are you hoping to accomplish here? Look around you!” The look didn’t register with any of us, and as a result, we all found ourselves at various points unable to pull our feet out of the mud (except when our shoes stuck in the mud and our feet came out, then we would stumble and find ourselves stepping in the mud with our bare feet). The mud that held virtually NO CLAMS! With the specially made and ordered clam digging rake baskety thing, we harvested a bunch of rocks, empty clam shells, and a lot of mud. We did a little better with a spoon and our bare hands, and managed to snag a whopping 8 shellfish (3 clams and 5 mussels). We decided to throw them in a bag with ice (which leaked all over the back of the SUV within minutes), and call it a morning. We headed for a nearby beach, and enjoyed the sun and surf until early afternoon. We all enjoyed grilled hot dogs, cooked at the edge of the beach. They tasted like heaven, and made us forget the clam fiasco. We had dinner on the waterfront in Boston that night, and none of us ordered seafood……………..

We got home and the next day I steamed the 8 shellfish, in beer. The 3 clam shells were filled with mud, and there were no clams inside, which left us with only the mussels. I had to rinse them off with hot water after cooking them, to get rid of the mud still inside them. Despite that, they were still a little gritty. We all ate one (all right, I had two, but there were four of us and we had five mussels. Someone had to eat the last one). They were……not great. But it was symbolic. We ate what we dug, and realized that we would NEVER be able to live off the land if we had to. I went right to the supermarket and bought enough steamers for us and my parents (Happy Birthday, Mom). I contemplated concocting a big lie about how hard we had worked to dig these clams for her birthday, and even told the rest of the family that they were required to be on board with the story. In the end we told the truth, because the whole experience is so much more interesting than any lie. Hell, it was probably more interesting than if we’d actually had a successful day digging clams.
I am afraid to see what else is on Holly’s bucket list………………….


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