By Liz Roddin “Dad, how many lobsters are we going to buy?” I asked as we stood mesmerized by the huge tanks at Gosman’s Dock in Montauk, full of the blackish/greenish shellfish, water spilling from the tanks above into those lower down. There were tanks for lobsters of every size – one for one to three pounders, one for three to five pounders, and others to hold those weighing five to seven pounds or more. At 10 or 11 years old, I had seen the tanks of lobsters in our A&P or the IGA, and they had always fascinated me, but this was a whole room just filled with tubs of them, and I knew I had never seen anything like it.
“We’re not sure yet, Lizzy. We may get 10 or 12 little ones, or we may just try to find one big one.” Wow, I thought. I hope we get a big one. I listened intently as my parents discussed the merits of the smaller, tenderer animals versus the larger, tougher, less expensive ones. My sisters and I walked from tank to tank, watching how fast this one swam or how long another one looked at us, examining the claws – with corks in their wrist joints – and noticing the larger, dull-toothed claw for crushing and the relatively smaller pointy-toothed claw for piercing. I loved this day, driving all the way toMontauk Pointwith our parents and grandparents, visiting the lighthouse, and now stopping at Gosman’s to buy one of our all-time favorite dinners – lobster.
I could remember the last time my Mom had brought some home from the grocery store, and she’d let us put them on the kitchen floor to see them walk around as we had waited for the water to boil. I’d been surprised then at their color, wondering why they were black and not the red-orange they were supposed to be. I loved looking at them, their eyes, their antennae, their awkward, scraggly legs. But any attachment I’d felt toward them melted with the butter we dipped them in at that night’s dinner table. Now, we were in the shellfish capital of all ofLong Island, and I knew this night would be very special – memorable and delicious.
Finally, after much deliberation, my parents chose the biggest lobster I had ever seen – he weighed13 pounds– and we named him Lester. The man at the counter lifted Lester out of the tank and placed him in a three-foot long plastic bag that he packed with crushed ice so that Lester would survive the two-hour trip home toHuntingtonand be fresh for our dinner. He “sat” in the way back of our station wagon, and I turned around frequently to see what he was doing, whether the ice was melting, and whether he was still moving or not. When we got home, my Dad took Lester out of the big bag and placed him on our lounge chair with the green and white webbed nylon strips. Lester took up at least two thirds of the chaise lounge’s lower portion. He took a Polaroid of the creature, and I looked longingly at that picture for years, remembering that lobster, remembering that day.
I watched as Lester enjoyed his pre-pot perch, and he seemed such a noble guy, calm, quiet, even dignified. My mother was in the kitchen, looking for a pot big enough to cook him, and I can’t remember how she did it, and I didn’t watch it happen, but she did cook him, and his black-green shell came out of the water bright orange, and she and my Dad broke his shell and made sure we all had a big portion and our own little cup of melted lemon butter.
The adults agreed he was a “little tough,” but he tasted pretty good to me although there was a part of me that wished he were back on the chaise lounge, astounding us with his blackish shell, his asymmetrical claws, and his impressive bulk. Part of me wished he were back at Montauk in the tanks at Gosman’s or even better in the waters of the ocean or Block Island Sound. Somewhere between Montauk and Huntington our dinner’s personality had made its way into my heart, and if I’d had the courage of my convictions, I never would have tasted him at all.