A Day with my Father (Or Why I Never Go Clamming)
By Rachel Taplin
My family has quite the history with eels. I grew up listening to tales of how my dad put a live eel in a swimming pool with his Aunt Pauline. Now, Pauline isn’t a small woman. Try as she might, she could never get herself up onto any kind of floating device. On this particular day, however, she found herself bathing with an eel. My ancestors still roar with laughter as they picture her jumping onto that raft and vaulting over the side of an above-ground pool when she looked down into the water to see an eel swimming between her legs. Once the deed was done, my father captured the poor creature and released it back intoGoose Creek. Little did I know that this eel would lie in wait, plotting its revenge. Nearly 20 years later, I would be the next victim ofAnguillarostrata.
It was a hot summer day, and my father and his cousin Tommy were going clamming inGoose Creek. As an inquisitive 10-year-old who loved the water, I insisted that they bring me with them. “I can help! I can dig clams too!” I whined. I donned an old t-shirt, a pair of loose shorts, found some gardening gloves so I wouldn’t get creek mud under my fingernails, and climbed into the cab of the truck while my dad loaded an inflatable rubber boat in the back of his pickup.
It was a tight squeeze, with two full-grown men and a large 10-year-old in the front of a three-seater truck. Luckily, it was a short ride, and before we knew it, we were unloading the boat into the water and Tommy was donning his scuba gear. We put-putted our way to an area where we heard there was an abundance of clams, beached the boat, and divvied up the buckets, clam rakes, and other paraphernalia.
The water was much colder than I expected, so I spent the first few hours sitting on the “beach,” digging in the creek mud, while Tommy and my father dug for clams. I scraped away the lighter brown layer to the black sand underneath. My sand castles took on a marble effect, with the black moat looking like a bottomless pit waiting to trap any invaders stupid enough to try and besiege my castle. Eventually, it got too hot, even in my world of make believe. I decided to put on my diving mask and join the happy clammers in the water.
Looking at all the fish was something I always enjoyed. Squishing my hands through the mud looking for clams, not so much. After what felt like hours (but was probably only about 10 or 15 minutes), I got bored and decided to just swim around. Still wearing the gloves, I felt like I was a mermaid with webbed fingers who could swim through the water faster than the fish. In reality, the gloves just weighed me down and made my hands go prune-y even faster.
The water grew deeper, and I thought the area looked like a promising location for clams. Hey, if I could live in the water, that’s where I’d choose. I put my gloves back on and went back to digging in the mud. My hand hit something solid, but I didn’t see anything. I figured I must have disturbed some kind of bottom-dwelling fish. I ignored it and continued my dig, picturing myself as an archaeologist searching for buried memories of the past. Or, much less romantic (but probably more accurate), I resembled a dog digging furiously for a bone.
All of a sudden, I felt something swim up my shorts, continuously circling in one leg and out the other. I screamed, losing most of my air and swallowing about half ofGoose Creek. I pulled off my shorts, half-swimming and half-running back to shore. As I was run-swimming, I saw an eel swim out of my shorts, looking dazed. I guess he didn’t like the experience either. I nearly fell over in the water, laughing at myself and imagining how much I resembled my Aunt Pauline just then. Concerned by my splashing and carrying on, my father surfaced and asked me what happened. When I told him, he had to come out of the water because laughing so hard gave him a stitch in his side. I was not amused.