Summer time on Long Island conjures up different images for every person. Lazy days on the beach tanning winter white bodies. Rotating periodically, as if on a barbecue spit, avoiding those dreaded uneven tan lines. The smell of coppertone drawing a smile while picturing the exposed, and pale baby butt, on an old-fashioned billboard. Cigarette smoke drifting on the salt air breeze. Teasing even though you may have quit the habit years ago.
Burning hot sand. And on those more crowded beach days, hopping from blanket to blanket in order to attain that most perfect spot where you would spread out your own blanket. No one seemed to mind unless you sprayed them with sand. Those were the days before one needed a folding chair to be comfortable at the beach, or a helping hand to scramble up from the blanket to get back to your feet.
The sounds of waves crashing on the shore line and the screams of teenage girls being dragged into the cold surf by muscular young men. Children squealing every time they are splashed and running in and out of shallow water. All these sounds cannot be mistaken for anything other than the sounds of summer.
Another thing that makes summer time special for me are clams, mussels, crabs and other seafood that might bite your toes when you are wading in the bay. I return the favor by either digging for them in the mud, or buying them at the fish store; cooking them up at home, and devouring every tasty bit.
Clams in particular bring me memories of times very long past. My mother standing at the kitchen sink shelling clams to place on a platter with lemon. One for the platter and one for her to slurp down right there. Naturally I got every third. You needed a lot of clams to get a dozen to the table.
One time my Aunt Butchie and I went down to Fulton Fish Market, way downtown Manhattan, to purchase a bushel of clams. She was visiting and the plan was to cook them all up, every which way, the next day. She was due to return home to an army base in the south and she was really missing seafood.
After much flirting by and with the bay men (she was really hot looking) we brought the bushel home and placed the clams on ice in my grandmother’s bathtub in her fourth floor apartment. (where else would you store a bushel of clams in a small apartment?) My mother and I still slept in the sixth floor apartment. My father had passed on about two years prior and my mother was not ready to give up the apartment. So my sister slept on the fourth floor with grandma and I with my mother upstairs.
That evening, the same day of the bushel of clams purchase, my mother and I had retired to the sixth floor and sat together watching tv. Out of the blue, mom turned to me, “Boy I could sure eat some clams right now, how about you?” That’s all it took. I was embarked on the great clam caper. It was very late. We knew everyone would be asleep downstairs. I was not to wake a soul. In my pajamas, with grandma’s key in hand, like a ninja, I snuck down the two flights of stairs with no thought to whom I might meet in the public hallway.
With great stealth, I slid the old, brass, Yale key in the lock, pushed the front door open and slid inside. Fortunately, the bathroom was just to the left of the front door. My instructions were very explicit. Don’t turn on any lights. Stash a couple of dozen clams in the bag I was carrying with me, back out of the bathroom; relock the front door; run upstairs with the bounty. I was certainly up to this. I was a tough city kid and we had lemon upstairs.
What this kid didn’t know was clams open up in the dark. As soon as I put my hand in the tub the entire bushel started snapping closed, loudly. It scared the hell out of the tough city kid. I screamed my bloody head off. Everyone in the apartment woke with a start. Grandma with hammer in hand came running and switched on the bathroom light to find me with one hand in the tub and paper bag in another. The house was in an uproar. Needless to say, she was not pleased.
So much for stealth and the Grand Clam Caper. But priceless as one of my many memories of Summer.