Lobsterfest occurs on the last Saturday of August when the kids and I and assorted closest of friends gather on my roof-deck for our annual celebration of a life we once had summering in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. Years ago, this tradition began when my then wife and I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1982 and had three children. Like other Cantabridgians we escaped to the Cape every August and commenced employing the joyful locution of using “summer” as a verb, which perhaps is required of all Yankees. We rented a house in Wellfleet, a quaint town that must have been the one sung about by Patti Page in the early 50s song “Old Cape Cod.” Part of that vacation was to buy lobsters at least once during our vacation, invite some other close friends vacationing there as well, and pig out—scratch that—lobster out on lobster.
In those days the kids were too little to ask for lobsters and ate hot dogs. But then they got older (still 10, 7 and 4) and wanted to know why they couldn’t eat lobster. Well, they could of course so we bought them lobster. In 1990 I was divorced but the kids and I still went to the Cape every summer and then when we moved to California in 1996 they lamented their missed lobsterfest and I said, well, let’s re-create it anyway, which we did. And every summer we have our traditional New England lobsterfest.
Last August we had our 32nd lobsterfest, we think. After our move to California lobsterfest was getting awfully expensive as the kids wanted to invite friends and it started costing me a fortune as lobsters were not cheap, not to mention the work. Then some years ago I found a wholesaler in downtown Los Angeles to sell me lobsters. I don’t remember how I finagled him to sell me lobsters but every August my buddy Boyd and I drive downtown in my golden 1998 4-door Cadillac de Ville to pick up the lobsters and the clams for the clam chowder. I’ve known Boyd for 45 years and he has been a kind of uncle to the kids, visiting for a week every lobsterfest. We always feel silly picking up our lobsters from the wholesalers since their warehouse is in skid row and we enter their parking lot along with huge trucks picking up their pallets of seafood for their respective restaurants. Our eight to ten lobsters and one 50-pound bag of cherrystone clams comes out pulled in a red Radio Flyer. I’m not kidding.
Once home we start the process of cleaning and steaming open 50 pounds of clams for the clam chowder. Kind of an assembly line operation of me and Boyd. The kids never do any work; they just come over to eat. Then the corn on the cob needs to be bought and steamed, the cole slaw made, the oyster crackers bought, the shell crackers and picks found and set out, the Parker House rolls made, butter for the corn on the cob set out, and finally, two pots placed on the stove for the steaming of the lobsters. It’s overkill, but we also make drawn butter for the lobsters.
The kids set the table which consists of their laying out many multiple sheets of newspaper to cover the entire table. They pass out the old shirts I’ve saved that take the place of lobster bibs. The shirts work great because they provide more protection than the skimpy bibs. And believe me if lobster juice isn’t a-flyin’ you’re not eating properly. The clam chowder is eaten out of large Styrofoam cups because we are sticklers for the authenticity of recreating a Cape clam shack experience. The corn on the cob is dumped on the table and people choose theirs at will. The clam chowder is eaten first. It’s the best clam chowder in the world which means it’s made with plenty of chunks of meaty clams, no flour, and no bacon only salt pork. Californians don’t know how to make clam chowder so this is home for us. Then come the lobsters, steamed 10 minutes and dumped on the table too. As we begin to eat conversation begins, usually with the re-telling of a favorite family story. Someone instructs any newbies at the table the proper way to eat lobster. When my youngest was four he would pass the piece of lobster shell to me for my approval that he got all the meat out with his pick. We eat the arms and fan tail meat too. Then we have the perennial debate of what part of the lobster should be eaten first and what part last. There seem to be two schools of thought in my family: finish with the claws or finish with the tails.
At the end of the meal, the sun is now very low in the sky and bouncing off the palm trees and buildings to our east, reflecting back on us a golden hour. A guest usually offers to help clean up. We say no need and then they watch the magic of the clean-up. The only objects needing removal are the crackers and picks. Then the kids start rolling up the newspapers from one end of the table capturing virtually all the garbage and in the trash it goes. Magically the clean-up is done and yet another magical lobsterfest concluded. Wellfleet remains a treasured memory.