`Ought to be somebody going out'

SO we'll see you Sunday!'' was the word, and when I set down the telephone my goodwife said, ``I don't think you can get lobsters.'' Whenever we have friends coming down from Boston to help us endure the joys of the simple life along the Maine coast, we suspect they expect lobsters, and my wife was stating a likelihood. This would be the ``pound'' season. Friendship, our town, brings in more annual tonnage of true lobsters than any other port, but circumstances alter cases and there comes a lull between winter and spring. For one thing, a good many of the lobstermen haul their boats and bring their traps onto the beach as an adjustment to cold weather. When another reluctant summer warms the islands around the edges, they fish again. I've ``gone to haul'' now and then, and I can attest that winter fishing is no bed of roses. So there is less supply, and it is time for the dealers to ``clean the pounds.'' A pound is a storage basin, a tidal cover screened off, where tons upon tons of good lobsters are kept in escrow to wait for a favorable market. When lobsters are in good supply and the price is down, the buyers and dealers fill their pounds. I suppose if you're dining out in Denver, Philadelphia, and even in Boston, a feed of Maine lobsters is a feed of Maine lobsters and your waiter and chef may not know about pounds, but here in Friendship we're notional. When goodwife said she doubted I could find lobsters, she meant ocean lobsters, clip and clean off the boat. There would be no lack of pound lobsters this time of year.

And it is notional. There's nothing wrong with pound lobsters. They wait, and then a crew comes to clean the pound, and until the pound is bereft of its last lobster there is great activity. The buyers and dealers smile if they have guessed right and the market gives them a bonus. And they do, of course, gamble each year over the costs of keeping the pounds and feeding their investment in the meantime.

``How about some lobsters that never heard of a pound?'' I asked my friend at the wharf, and he gave me a sidewise glance that was kinsman to a smile.

``I dunno.'' he said.

``Got some friends due up from Boston,'' I said.

``Don't say!'' he said.

He's heard that many times. Our little local joke is that we can't afford lobsters ourselves, but we have to splurge when the friends come from Boston.

``I'll try,'' he said.

``Pick 'em up Saturday morning?''

``I guess. Ought to be somebody going out.''

Favoring our guests with lobsters calls for some getting-ready. I have to fetch the big kettle in from the woodshed, and then I have to walk down to the shore and dip a pail of sea water. It's the only way to cook the things. Some of the cookbooks say you can put a handful of salt in city tap water, and some of the cookbooks even say to have enough water to cover the beasties. Well, a handful of store salt lacks the salubrious impurities of true tidewater, and lobsters never get used to it. So I had the pot by the stove, and some sea water on the kitchen shelf, and all we needed was our lobsters and our guests.

There was a 22-wheeler truck backed onto the wharf, and all the boys were out straight loading it with 100-weight crates of beautiful Maine pound lobsters about to enjoy a ride to Des Moines. My clamhod for lobsters had already been loaded with the same, and I could see there was nobody with leisure to hear my remarks. I got pound lobsters.

And it is notional. Goodwife apologized for pound lobsters, but our friends from Boston didn't hear her -- they were smacking their jowls so it sounded like musketry at Bunker Hill, and the spent shells thudded in the gurrybutt, and the swish of hot butter rebounded off the walls and rumbled. So things went, and in the end there was one odd lobster. Our friends divided it lavishly, and one of them said, ``Don't see anything wrong with pound lobsters!''

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