At the risk of alienating almost the entire population of the state of Maryland and many of my Sassenach friends, I have a confession to make: I’m not a devotee of picking crabs. I understand the allure: the chatting, the cold beer, the bite of Old Bay, even the crab meat itself, but to this Maryland Outlander, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. Don’t get me wrong: I like a good crab cake as much as anyone, but when it comes to picking crabs, I’m more like Chance, Peter Sellers’ character in the film Being There: “I like to watch.”
This past weekend, we had family visitors who gave up the Free State for the Upper West Side of New York City long ago. Word was that one of them—my brother-in-law—was craving some crabs and rockfish, and that was all the excuse my wife needed to organize a family crab feast. Sister Number One and her Outlaw husband supplied all the crustaceans (they have a very productive dock) and the rockfish. Other family and friends brought everything else we needed to scratch the crab itch: corn on the cob, cole slaw, chips and onion dip, cucumber, feta and tomato salad, and a mixed berry pie that put the exclamation point on the feast. The beer and sodas were ice-cold, not to mention the champagne and wine. Me? Just some fried chicken from the RoFo, thank you very much.
Even the weather cooperated: the afternoon was warm but not scorching, there was a cooling breeze, and—thank God—the humidity was low: just right for the tympani of banging mallets and the ebb and flow of conversation. (In this family, there’s a lot more flow than ebb in the conversation, but you knew that!) The detritus mounted but never overflowed. As for the bottles and cans, let’s just say we did our part for the town’s new recycling center.
As the evening wore on, we noticed the cicadas were chatting just as loudly as we were and that the daylight seemed to slip away earlier than usual. That didn’t stop the party. It simply moved from the backyard to the front porch where the usual suspects wandered by and stopped in for a chat or a sip or two. I’ve learned there’s no way I can keep up with this crew so I bowed out early, but the professionals among us carried on until midnight and beyond. They know how to keep a good thing going. When she finally came upstairs to bed, my wife told me it was the best night of the summer, and I believed her.
There’s always something more to say about this family, but this much is true: they’re always up to the clean-up task. There were tables and chairs to stow, recycling to separate, trash and more trash to bag, but many hands made light work, and when the sun rose on the morning-after, you could hardly tell that a battle had been fought on this field the previous day.
Today, the New Yorkers will return home and the house will seem a bit empty. But memories don’t take up much room in the storage bins of our minds. Maybe one of these days. I’ll take Lady Macbeth’s advice and “screw my courage to the sticking place” and dive in to a heap of crabs smothered in Old Bay, but until then, I’m content to keep score from the sidelines. “Who’s winning?” you ask. We are.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.