Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Lobster Named Jim

It’s Memorial Day Weekend: A time to honor those who have served our country and given it all. It’s also an opportunity to thank the Veterans and their families who have served our country and provided us with the freedoms we enjoy, and take for granted, everyday. My thanks go out to all who have served, continue to serve and who are preparing to serve.

One of the many freedoms we enjoy is the freedom to travel freely and spend time with family. Memorial Day Weekend, for most of us, also signals the start of summer and we celebrate it with family gatherings often centered on food.
My family is no different.  As a kid I looked forward to the annual lobster feast each Memorial Day Weekend.  Lobster was an annual treat, not something my family could afford more than once each year.
The annual lobster feast was held at my Uncle Will’s house in a little town on Cape Ann Massachusetts called, “Manchester by the Sea”. Uncle Will’s house was located on a cliff overlooking Singing Beach. The back of his house had a large deck where we all gathered to enjoy the ocean breezes, the view and the lobster feast. From his deck you could go down the stairs, across a small lawn, down a path to the cliff staircase which would take you down to the beach. It was a spectacular spot.
My favorite tradition of the day was the lobster race. My uncle would dump the live lobsters that would be our feast onto the kitchen table and my brothers, sister and cousins would all pick out a lobster for the race. Winner of the race would get the biggest lobster to eat. The biggest lobster was not always the fastest, but it was a prize worth fighting for. Once we had all chosen a lobster, we’d place them on the starting line and my uncle would start the race with the typical, “On your mark, get set, GO!” He’d often fire off his imaginary finger gun, “Bang!”  The lobsters . . . would do nothing but wiggle around on the floor, often nipping at each other with their banded claws. We would all get down on the floor and poke our lobster’s tail attempting to coax it to the finish line. Sometimes it took awhile but eventually there would be a winner. We’d celebrate with great hoots, howls and cheers and then we’d take the lobsters to the big pot on the stove. Head first into the steaming pot they’d go.

The year that my cousin Tommy was eight he decided that his lobster was going to win. He grabbed his chosen lobster first off the table and then took it outside on the deck for training. He led his lobster through a variety of training exercises cheering it along as it crawled on the deck. He said he wanted it to recognize his voice and signals. He got quite attached to his little lobster during training and named him, “Jim”. When the time came for the big race, Tommy placed Jim on the line giving him last minute words of assurance. Uncle Will signaled the start of the race, and they were off. Twelve lobsters on the line nipping each other with banded claws and Jim was the clear winner. Tommy was ecstatic! He picked Jim up with great cheers and fanfare. As we all took our lobsters to the pot, Tommy moved to the back of the line. When he got to the pot he looked Jim in the eye and just couldn’t put him in.

He took Jim out of the house, onto the deck, down the stairs, across the lawn, down the narrow path and down the cliff staircase to the beach. He walked out into the surf and let his friend Jim go. When he arrived back to the house and told us what he’d done, my dad looked at him and said, “hope you took those bands off his claws.” Tommy’s eyes got really big as he looked at my dad. He knew instantly that Jim was in trouble. Tommy made the trip back down to the beach and spent an hour diving in the surf looking for Jim. But alas he never did find him.
When Tommy arrived back on the deck we were all seated and enjoying our lobster feast. Big chunks of tender lobster meat dipped in butter, yummy! Tommy made his rounds to each of us begging for a bite, but none of us, except my mother, would share even a single bite. And even mom didn’t share much!
The next year when the lobsters were dumped on the table, Tommy took his time choosing. When he finally picked, he announced with confidence that his lobster would be the clear winner and he’d be eating the biggest lobster of the day. When we asked him what his lobster’s name was, he answered, “dinner!”

To this day, I never eat a lobster without thinking of my cousin Tommy. The lobster race tradition continues in my family, but no one other than Tommy has ever named a lobster or set one free.

Happy Memorial Day!