It is never a good idea to introduce a newcomer to the clan at a family crab feast. Case in point, my cousin Ricky.
Ricky invited to a family gathering a lovely young woman from the Midwest he met during his college spring semester. That gathering turned into a crab feast after his Uncle Paul and Uncle Bobby went crabbing that morning. Ricky didn’t know this until he and his date arrived around 3pm.
“Hi everyone,” Ricky said. “This is Maria.”
“Is she from North or South Korea?” Grandpa shouted,
“No Harold,” Nana said, “Her name is Maria, she’s from … Where is she from?”
“She’s from Anita, Iowa,” Ricky replied.
“She’s from PETA?” Grandpa asked. “Ha! She won’t like this meal.”
Nana shot Grandpa a dirty look and told him to freshen his mint julep. “It’s very nice to meet you, dear,” Nana said taking her hand.
Maria was looking a bit shaky and Ricky turning rather pale.
There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-kids, grandkids, in-laws and outlaws running in every direction but up. Aunt Mary was dishing out her macaroni salad, my brother Tony was grilling burgers, my step-daughter Susan was putting the final touches on her potato salad, Uncle Paul was opening a beer (his specialty), and Uncle Bobby was getting the steamer ready. The house was buzzing like a beehive — until Maria asked if we use a special crab boil. You could hear the screeching of tires when everyone stopped in their tracks. All heads turned in her direction.
“Whaa … what?” she asked.
Aunt Mary pointed her finger at the poor girl. “If anyone in Southern Maryland boils a crab, they’ll be run outta the state, and I’ll be leadin’ the charge. Girl, you steam crabs in Maryland. Boilin’ ’em just makes ’em mushy and takes the flavor outta ’em.
“So you just steam them with water?” Maria then asked.
That question turned an already crazy family into an insane one. Arguments started about the ratio of vinegar to water and/or beer, apple cider vinegar versus white vinegar, no vinegar, just beer, just beer and vinegar, no water, water and beer and so on. That lasted a good 10 minutes as Maria’s eyes bounced from one relative to another as if she were watching a tennis match.
The girl from Iowa plopped down on a kitchen chair seemingly stressed. Then, trying to redeem herself, she announced that she had brought dessert. “Richard,” she said, “I almost forgot. Would you bring in the ice cream?”
Uncle Paul’s head did close to a 180-degree turn. “You brought what?”
“Ice cream,” Maria answered. “For dessert.”
Nana’s eyebrows furrowed down to her nose as she announced that one never eats ice cream after crabs.
“Those crabs’ll turn to stone in your stomach if you eat ice cream after crabs,” she sternly proclaimed. Ricky — or Richard, as he was now going to be mockingly referred to — rolled his eyes and did as he was asked.
Once the crabs were steamed and dumped on piles of newspaper, Maria asked, “How do you eat these things?”
That question led to the second family explosion with everyone arguing about the best way to pick a crab.
“You take the legs off first,” said Uncle Bobby, “startin’ with the back ones.”
“No you don’t, you fool, you take the shell off first, then the legs!” retorted Uncle Paul.
“LEGS FIRST!” yelled Uncle Bobby.
“SHELL FIRST” shouted Uncle Paul.
Then the bickering began about whether to use mallets or knives to extract the meat. Should you eat the mustard or not? Black pepper or Old Bay or just plain?
By this time Maria looked faint. She whispered into Ricky’s ear and left the room.
“Um,” Ricky said, “Maria’s not feeling well. I’m going to take her back to her dorm.”
“Oh dear,” Nana said. “I hope she’s all right. You will bring her for Thanksgiving, won’t you?”
Ricky gave Nana a look over his shoulder as he headed out the door.
I leaned over and told Nana that I didn’t think we’d see Maria again.
“Why not?” she asked.
I answered, “Family crab feast, that’s why.”