For all of my short existence, every summer, my family and I had made the drive from New York City to our grandparents’ home on Gardiner’s Bay. Two years ago, the summer that I turned thirteen, was no different. Come rain or ranting or raccoon poop in the hands of my little cousin, sixteen of us would be spending Memorial Day Weekend under the one roof that sheltered a modern, shingled beach house.
On past holiday weekends, we had always seen people near the coast with buckets digging for clams. That year, an aunt and uncle decided that we should get in on the action. We made the necessary arrangements, buying buckets and clam rakes that we thought were necessary for our mission to be a success.
Shortly after a delicious lunch, prepared by the world-renowned chef Svetlana (my grandmother), we headed down the beach, equipment in hand, to start our expedition. We brought pool flotation seats for younger children and buckets to store the clams in, and the two clam rakes. There were eight of us, and we slowly waded into the water in what we decided was a good place to start, or at least not too deep of a place.
After ten minutes of scooping up rocks with the clam rake, we realized that we would have to feel around with our hands to find the clams. Thus began the spectacle of us slowly moving through the water with our heads just above the surface, feeling the ground with our fingers for anything that could be a clam. I did not know a clam from an oyster from a mussel, so I was just picking up all smooth rocks that I found. Despite the disbelieving stares of the Cedar Point Park campers swilling beers on the shoreline in lawn chairs, we continued splashing around like idiots.
My brother, who was ten at the time, was the first person to find a clam, or so he thought, but it turned out to be a perfectly rounded rock. After another five minutes of stubbing my toes on the rocky bottom of the bay, I heard a yelp behind me. It was my older cousin Isabel standing up with a large clam in her hand. I immediately swam over to congratulate her, as did the rest of the family. From then on, my aunt, who was manning the bucket, had a constant barrage of people handing her clams. My brother eventually had to go back to the house to get more buckets. After another hour or so, we decided that we had more than enough clams to make lunch the next day for the whole family. We started the trek along the beach back to the house. Upon our return, we quickly pried open a few of the larger clams. We then sprinkled lemon on them and, after counting to three, popped them into our mouths. Personally, I thought they tasted awful.
That night we huddled around my uncle’s computer and researched the recipes and ingredients we would need for the next day. The following morning we descended in full force upon the IGA in Sag Harbor to purchase the necessary ingredients. Upon our return, my aunt, who had appointed herself as the boss, started to instruct people on their roles in the kitchen. Luckily, my very cautious mother was still sleeping because she wouldn’t have approved of the fact that all of my tasks involved a sharp blade.
By the time we neared the end of the cooking process, I was starving and it was long past lunchtime. Not only had we started late but the cooking also went on much longer than we expected. The dishes we were making – New England clam chowder, clams casino, and friend clams – all smelled delicious, and my mouth was salivating. I don’t remember if the food tasted good or not, but I do remember the stomachache that ensued after I devoured all of the rich, clam-filled, delicacies.
A few weeks later, I was back visiting my grandparents and eating a dinner of clams casino at the Hamptons staple “Lunch.” The restaurant’s professionally prepared dish was undoubtedly much better than the one my family had made, but there was something missing. Did I mention that I cut my finger with the knife, and my mom was right? That my nephew melted down into a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor? And that it was so hot in the kitchen that we were all soaked in sweat by the time the meal was prepared? There was no blood, sweat, or tears in those butter-saturated, high-priced clams.