I cannot imagine anyone wanting to sink their feet into that dark, black quag just for the sheer fun of it or because it follows tradition. When is it right to break tradition, anyway? Or is it? When it’s dangerous, I decided, and clamming is definitely dangerous.
My philosophical thought processes ended abruptly as I felt the cool mud sucking further at my dainty white feet. The mucky ooze closing in around my delicately girlie skin did not bother me as much as what was actually lurking in that dark salty abyss- crabs of all kinds, mud suckers, jellyfish and other kinds of sea urchins whose names I couldn’t pronounce. The chances of finding one of those quahogs that Dad so loved was probably very good, but finding the other things that Joe was finding or them finding me was greater. I was not taking the chance!
By this time, I decided that I didn’t care about even one clam, I didn’t need the dollar and I didn’t need to beat my brothers in a contest; I could beat them in other games – like Scrabble. Besides, I liked my feet, I liked them white; clamming in the Great Quagmire turns feet a ghastly pale gray. Secretly, I was done with this whole clamming thing. I started treading water again.
“Time!” Dad called.
That was my cue.
“Wait! I got one!” I yelled with great enthusiasm. I planned to fake a ‘catch’ – I’d go under splashing wildly, swim fast back to the boat and pretend to throw my one clam into the boat. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t include my little snitch of a brother being in the boat already. Joe kept his eyes on me from the moment I came up for air so I kept up the charade with a lot of extra splashing as I swam toward the boat. I grabbed onto the side of the boat pretending to drop the clam on the floor while simultaneously punching the outside with my other hand to simulate the clunking sound of the clam falling into the boat.
“Joe, where’s my clam?” I calmly asked as I clamored up into the boat hoping he would think it happened so fast he missed it.
“What clam? You didn’t have no clam!”
“Yes I did! What’d ya do with it? Dad! Joe threw my clam overboard so he could say I didn’t get a clam!”
“Joseph,” Dad glared at Joe.
It was working. I was going to make my quota and I smiled.
“Dad, she didn’t have no clam. She’s lyin’ and she’s tryin’ to get me in trouble,” Joe innocently explained.
“Laura Jean,” growled Dad in a very low voice.
My gaze went down. I noticed my pale gray feet – and they’d only been in the mire for five minutes – then a sideways flame of intense anger shot out of my eyes at Joe. He was smirking and holding up his one puny clam. I sneered at him, grabbed a towel and slumped into a seat far away from anyone.
John was emptying his pockets, counting loud enough so everyone could hear, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19! He was sure he’d won the contest. Gloating, he grabbed a towel, put on his sunglasses and sat in the captain’s seat.
T.J. was the last one to get in the boat. Actually, he couldn’t get in the boat, it hurt too much; not only did every pocket in his jean shorts have clams in them but there had to be at least twenty more packed into the front of them too. Dad helped him get into the boat as John and Joe laughed hysterically at the funny, lumpy shape T.J.’s shorts took on.
“Hmph! Brothers!” I groaned, “And I’m not eating those nasty clams.”
T.J. won both of the lame ‘buck’ contests and even without my contribution we (I was in the water!) caught enough clams for Mom to make clam sauce.
We donned sweatshirts and drove in silence on the calm glassy waters of theGreat South Bayinto the fat, squashy reddish-orange sun, warm and happy to be going home.
On a perfectLong Islandday last June we went toFire Island– Dad, me and my children, my three brothers and all of their children. At the end of a completely fulfilling and exhausting day at the beach I heard it again, “First clam gets a buck!” With swiveling hips and pale gray feet, we caught two hundred eleven clams all together. My contribution – this time – was thirty-one.