Not to be outdone by Grandma, this writer becomes a crab machine
by Joan B. Lehmann
Im a crab. And I dont mean just when Im having a bad day. Im a crab all of the time. I was born in June, under the sign of Cancer. When I say Im feelin crabby it doesnt mean Im grouchy. It means Ive got a craving for those delectable crustaceans.
Last summer, I decided the kids were old enough to take them crabbing. Ones a good swimmer and the other is a good screamer. So I figured if either one of them fell overboard, Id have a pretty good chance of getting him back.
It was a perfect day. We packed our dip nets, chicken necks and collapsible traps and headed toward the pier. When we got there, we found no pier. Isabel had taken it away. Not to be defeated, we headed for a rocky jetty. Climbing across the sharp angular rocks was treacherous; trying to crab off the rocks was impossible. Finally, my eight-year-old daughter said, Mother, this stinks. Were never going to catch a crab like this. She is a crab too, but she wasnt born in June.
Next we wandered onto a small beach near the jetty. We had it all to ourselves. The kids found shells and feathers and wrote their names in the sand. I marveled at all the sea glass, bits of bottles worn by the tide for years until they were smooth and gemlike. They were shades of blue, green and brown. I remembered when I was a child seeing soft drinks in these bottles: root beer, Sprite and Rock Creek ginger ale.
Mother, are we gonna catch crabs or what! The silence was broken by the harsh voice of the crab.
Okay, everybody in the car. Time for Plan B.
I had no idea what Plan B was, but I wasnt going to give up without a fight.
We drove to a nearby pier. I rigged four collapsible traps and two hand lines with chicken necks. The sun was getting high. After 15 minutes, the kids were already hot, bored and hungry.
Mom, we havent seen a single crab. Are you sure you know what youre doing? Grandma got 29 crabs out of her pots last week. She doesnt have to sit in the hot sun, whined the eight-year-old crab.
Then my five-year-old, my baby, broke my heart.
Mommy, why are we using dead chicken? Do chickens swim in the Bay, too? Grandma used fish heads and we catched a whole bunch!
That was the last straw. I was hot, hungry and getting crabby, too. I was not going to let these kids down. Most of all, I was not going to be outdone by Grandma.
I remembered seeing doublers, mating crabs, hanging off the wooden pier supports in August last year. I remembered thinking if I just had a dip net, I would have had supper.
Wait right here kids!
Walking from pole to pole with my dip net, I searched for crabs clinging to the wood. Finally, I found one. He was a big Jimmy, white bellied with huge blue claws. I kneeled on the pier, carefully lowered the net into the water and moved it slowly behind him. I gathered my courage and scooped him up in one motion. My heart was beating out of my chest. I walked swiftly back to the little crabbers who were patiently waiting for a bite.
Look at this! I cried.
Mommy, how did you get him? asked the little one.
Watch and learn, kids. Watch and learn!
We searched from pole to pole for clingers.
The eight-year-old had sharp eyes and quickly learned how to spot them.
Every minute or so she hollered, Crab!
I ran to her carrying the dip net. Little brother ran four steps behind me with the five-gallon bucket.
I hardly missed a crab. Soon five or six crabs were scrambling at the bottom of the bucket. Within 45 minutes, our bucket was so full; the five-year-old could barely carry it. On one scoop, there was a doubler and another curious Jimmy. I caught all three at once.
My five-year-old squealed, Mom, you are a crab machine!
The eight-year-old commented, Yeah, and these are a lot bigger than Grandmas.
I was redeemed in the eyes of my children.
I knew we had over two dozen crabs, and we were starving. So we threw the chicken necks overboard and headed home to cook and eat our catch.
It might seem cruel to interrupt these creatures while they are in the heat of passion. But boy they tasted good and what a way to go.
Joan B. Lehmann, of Pasadena, is an emergency room physician at Northern Arundel Hospital. She last reflected in May, 2004, in Hooked in the ER.