Three of us were tight as a fist, and Eddie’s call came at 4:00 in the morning. His whisper, not wanting to wake his wife, said “Great storm at sea last night. Want to check the beach?”
An awakening grace also said it was Saturday.
That’s all it took in the darkness beside my wife, turning, stretching, eyes blinking, rolling over, going back to sleep. She knew it was Saturday too.
Once before, after a storm out on the Atlantic, we had found a dozen quahogs at Nahant Beach, picked them off the sands with an assortment of sea clams on the mile of curving beach along the causeway linking islanded and insular Nahant to the City of Lynn. For years we had swum at Nahant Beach, had evening cookouts, and watched the girls for long summers.
In silence, in darkness until I reached the kitchen, I left a note for my wife: “Storm at sea last night. Will be at Nahant looking for quahogs to stuff and bake. Eddie called. Ray and I are going.”
The morning was special. A summer nip climbed in the air, saying, as ever, that Saturdays are full of expectations.
We did not bring baskets or bags, but hurried to view the scene, not to be left out of the treasure yield the storm and Father Atlantic might have tossed onto the beach. On the way, in Ray’s car, an old green Studebaker that smoked and made strange noises, we talked about grinding them up for baked stuffed quahogs for munching during TV hockey games, or for freezing them, after being ground up, to use in Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. Some would be earmarked for adding to the menu of a corn and lobster clambake classic in one yard or another, and a large copper pot loaded with seaweed sitting atop two camp stoves.
There was no traffic in our five mile ride to Nahant, the sun just burping over the horizon, Europe halfway through its day.
We hit the beach, and were stunned. There in front of us was the mother lode. As far as we could see, along the strand, the beach was littered with quahogs and sea clams, all sizes. In joy and surprise we screamed at each other for not bringing baskets or plastic bags to carry off the loot. Hunger tantrums made way on us. The forgotten taste of baked stuffed quahogs came back in a hurry. Tabasco sauce, a glass of wine or a glass of beer, a kiss from the wild Atlantic.
Scrambling for anything to carry them in the trunk of the car, we found an old pair of wading boots and two old work jackets. We rushed up and down the beach, filling all the limbs of those boots and the jackets, lugging them to the car. We filled the trunk and then the back seat. It was exhausting work, running back and fro, waiting for the hungry crowd to come over the horizon, to get their share.
We thought the morning was as complete as it ever could be, the three of us, Pine River fisherman, trout fisherman, who were mesmerized by sea food … lobster, clams, shrimp, the catch of the day.
But, in another wake-up call, along the paved walk of the strand, on an old-fashioned skinny-tire bicycle, going slow, studying the beach, came an elderly gent. He wore a shirt and tie, on a Saturday, and a blazer. His shoes shined like new pennies. Something told me he was on the same hunt that we were, but neater by long habit. We asked him if this was his regular morning constitutional, from insular Nahant, to pedal the causeway out and back, to keep fit what was an 80 year old body, at least.
“Not really,” he said with a soft smile. “My wife Mirabel, we’ve been married almost 60 years, sent me out to see if I could find a couple of quahogs she could stuff and bake tonight. I know she’d find a nice bottle of wine some place in the house, and we’d have ourselves a grand evening. Rich salt air, a little wine, music from a favorite old opera, and baked stuffed quahogs. It can’t get any better than that.” He smiled the soft smile again. He was not out to beat anybody.
The old man, we believed forever after, had found Nirvana and Utopia.
Ray, quick to spread his wealth, opened the trunk of the car. Quahogs, like huge coins, spilled onto the pavement. We filled the little basket sitting across the handlebars of the old gent’s bike. A dozen quahogs, loaded with promise, sat like the riches of the Orient.
The air was special. Saturday was special.
Eddie said, “Do you want us to follow you home and make a special delivery, a big delivery.”
“Oh, dear, no,” the old gent said. “That would only spoil it.”
To a man we knew what he meant.
We never saw him again.
We never saw the beach littered like that again.
We never made that trip again, time having its way, and mortality.
But I think about it often, and all the players on that special Saturday.
Tom Sheehan is the author of Jehrico ~ Many Tales of a Mexican Boy Finding His Way in the Old West, now available in quality paperback from Hammer & Anvil Books. He writes from Saugus, Massachusetts.