|Long Island Quahogs and Me
By Laura Perno
Long Island- two uniquely different shores, forked at the end and enclosed with an expansive barrier island calledFire Island, is a great place to live, offering amazingly diverse recreational opportunities for all. A perfect day onLong Islandmeant that Mom, Dad, my three younger brothers, John, T.J., Joe and I, the oldest and only girl, were going to the beach. We favored theSouthShorebecause we had access to the ocean and for what theGreat South Bayprovided with its numerous species of fish, clams and crabs. After spending a completely fulfilling and exhausting day at the beach, the boat ride home always ended with Dad making a “quick” stop – fifteen minutes of clamming.
“First clam gets a buck!” he said.
“C’mon, Lau, jump in already,” yelled John, impatiently.
My youngest brother Joe ribbed me, “Sissy!”
“Laura Jean, get in the water,” scolded my Dad.
“Why do we hafta stop and clam on the way home every time we go to the beach?”
T.J., who earned the dollar for the first clam and who had four or five more clams in his cut-off jean shorts pockets waved his hand at me in disgust. “Forget it. She’ll never get in. Besides, I’ve already got my quota.”
“No you don’t either!” I yelled back as I slowly eased down the side of the boat.
Dad’s required quota was ten clams per person.
Five minutes passed and my arms were numb from dangling off the edge of the boat. When I was sure I had kicked and splashed enough to scare away all the jellyfish, I lowered myself into the water, not straying too far from the boat in case I needed an immediate and swift escape from the giant crab that might attack and eat my feet. I was NOT putting my feet down in the quaggy muck. So, I treaded water for another five minutes while I imagined that my rapid-fire pedaling feet propelled every lurking fish, crustacean and invertebrate beast far from my body.
“Okay, Laura Jean, five clams,” Dad whispered to me. “Now, hurry up!” He held onto the boat to keep the tide from stealing it away. Enviously, I watched his swiveling hips which seemed to produce a clam about every thirty seconds.
“I heard that,” complained Joe. “No fair!” He didn’t even have one clam in his possession because of his urchin-like frolicking and boyish examination of every living and dead thing and every piece of broken and nasty refuse he yanked up from the mud.
“It is too fair!” I argued back as I faked the swiveling hips action proving I was a ‘real’ clammer. “You didn’t even get one clam yet, so shut up!”
But John found me out. Treading water and swiveling hips is physiologically difficult. I looked spastic.
“Dad, she’s not clamming!” tattled John. “She shouldn’t be allowed to eat tonight.”
“Thanks a lot, John. You’re a rat.”
John just snickered.
“Where are all your clams, John?” I yelled loud enough for Dad to hear.
“I already put my twenty-five clams in the boat, Laura Jean,” and he stuck out his tongue.
“Laura Jean, one clam,” said Dad, this time very sternly.
“Daddy’s little girl” chided John in a sing-song way.
Dad wasn’t going to let me off the hook like I was hoping. Nope. What my brothers did, I had to do and just as well, too.
One clam? I could do this! I was exhausted from treading water for the last five minutes anyway. Then, Dad spoke the final challenge.
“A buck for whoever gets the most clams today! Five minutes left!”
Slowly, I placed one foot down in the quaggy muck – not too bad – and then even more slowly I set down the other foot.
“Ew, Yuck!” My feet continued to sink. “Aw, c’mon, this is gross!”
I couldn’t move.
I was not going to move.
The entireGreat South Bayis one giant disgusting quagmire!
Why couldn’t we use rakes like everyone else did? I could hear my father’s lecturing voice now, “Because, Laura Jean, it’s tradition. It’s the way your grandmother did it, it’s the way I do it, it’s the way you’re gonna do it, and it’s how you’re children are gonna do it.” No sense in even asking the question out loud.