My Book of the Bay Has Many Chapters
by Stefani Hutchison
When my beloved grandmother, Rosalie Raley, passed away following her husband of more than 50 years, I was lost. In the midst of my sorrow I thought, Well, thats it, then. Grandmother and Papa are both gone. End of chapter; close the book.
Then I took a walk on the beach and found that maybe I was wrong.
My happiest childhood memories are of grandmother and papas beach house. The welcome mat said Raleys Rest, but we called it The Cottage.
Thats where I learned to catch blue crabs from the pilings with a net or on a string with a chicken neck tied to it. Grandmother crouched next to me as I lay on my stomach, net in hand. Easy, she whispered. A gust of wind, smelling of creosote and sunshine, blew my hair into my eyes. Beneath me, the pier felt rough and warm and cast enough shadow to show me the crab just below the surface. Slowly, steadily, I worked the net closer. When the crab moved, I froze, waiting. I felt powerful, the predator playing out the age-old drama.
Of course at the last and crucial moment I rushed, and my prey dropped from the piling. Grandmother, as disappointed as I, encouraged me to keep trying. I learned what little patience I have from her and those crafty crabs.
I caught my first bluefish from the end of the pier one bright afternoon. It was only slightly smaller than Moby Dick; the struggle between nine-year-old and fish lasted for hours.
Perhaps it was only a couple of inches long; I had to throw it back. Compared to the silly old spot and perch that I had been catching all afternoon, landing that blue was exciting. I was also afraid of its teeth and made Papa take it from the hook.
Here I experienced many other firsts: first sea nettle sting, (put mud from the bottom on it) and first fish hook in the finger. Papa got the iodine, and when he was though the wound looked scary and important with all the red. I caught my first eeland got dumped on by a seagull. That would have been funnier had the bird flown a hair to the left and got my brother.
At night I sat at the kitchen table with grandmother to play Canasta. The ticking of a clock, the shuffle of the cards or Papas paper were the only sounds in the cottage. The tang of vinegar and Old Bay seasoning permeated the air if we had eaten crabs that day. Finally the clock chimed the hour, and Grandmother sent me off to bed. I lay in the darkness listening to the waves and the breeze and the myriad little sounds that made up a warm summers night until sleep claimed me
These memories return in a flood as I walk on the beach, showing me how wrong I was. The chapter has ended, but not the book.
Every time the wind shifts and blows the smell of tar and fish to me, I remember our summers at the cottage. When I look down from a pier and see sea nettles drifting in ever changing constellations or hear the raucous cry of gulls, I remember their love. The sound of happy people casting their rods into the water or the sharp smell of a bushel of crabs on the boil fill my heart with peace. Standing on the beach surrounded by life and memories, Grandmother and Papa seem not so far away.
Stefani Hutchison returned in 1988 to Southern Maryland, where she lives with her husband and two children. This is her second reflection for Bay Weekly, following Adrift In Novembers Mist (Vol. xii, No. 45).