labor day weekend round these parts


There are times that I just imagine that it looks like I have a charmed life. That my days are filled with dapple-shadowed back-yards and sunswept beaches. And really, for strangers reading these posts, it probably does look like that a good bit. I know I've touched on some sad stuff here, and there were days that this summer has been really hard. And really, whose life is totally charmed anyway? For all of us those dapple-shadowed back yards can hide clobber-filled sheds (and I'm speaking both figuatrively and literally!), and sunswept beaches can swarm with red tide. Still, charmed is the way it really is sometimes. And that's how this weekend was for me.


We started on Friday night celebrating a birthday with some newish friends of ours. We've been hanging out with this other couple, some friends from work, since just after the first of the year, and it really feels as if we're starting to get a groove on. Do you ever notice that you have first dates as couples? It's funny to look back on those first nights that we went out to dinner when we're now teasing each other about "no mas Jose'" and how I saw Peyton Manning last night. We share an interest in food and movies and (for some of us at least) football and just being together and having a good time. Not a bad basis for a friendship, I think. The beribboned package is this (perfect for beach picnics). We made her put it together...a sort of beachy-trial by fire.


It's a good Friday night when your dinner consists of portabellas with blue cheese and a chocolate pound birthday cake. When you can grill sitting down and the beer is icy cold. When the water is warmer than the air and someone has a birthday so you can drink champagne. We've tried to do this little celebration several times and in a summer of near-drought got rained out again and again. At the start of a long weekend, this third time was the charm.


Not to be outdone, neighbor Rebecca decided to hold a crab feast on Sunday night. What a marvelous place we call home, really. Ours was a street in transition when we moved here very nearly four years ago. Older families moving out, young couples moving in. Well, those young couples are moving on with their lives, having babies, growing families, all sorts of crazy things and here we are smack dab in the middle of all the fun. We call ourselves SOBO, based on the direction of our block, and any given evening you can find the kids playing football across the front yards and the grown-ups drinking beer beside somebody's firepit. Sometimes, someone steps it up a little, formalizes things enough to ask for side dishes, and suddenly there's a party.

We aren't at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay for nothing, and apparently Rebecca had been thinking about picking crabs all summer. We had a perfect night for it. I've said it before, summers are muggy, buggy and hot here and they usually last deep into September. Not that night.  That night was perfect.  Clear.  Not muggy.  Star-filled and almost cool.  It's all part of feeling charmed, and I know our hostess felt that way.

A perfect cool evening with so much good food.

The kids were thirsty, and someone said, "Here's the lemonade." Well the kids drinks were in a bucket on ice. The stuff in the pitcher? Lemon drop martinis. Our kids our pretty sharp though. "This tastes like alcohol!!" was the horified cry, and the mistake was quickly remedied.

I have one friend who I knew would go into the crab-zone. "Gonna pick any for me?" I teased. I didn't think he'd really do it.

"Um," he said. It sounded sort of affirmative. It's clear, he's in the zone. As I prod his bubble, he continues his rhythm of WHAP with the mallett, crack of the claw, peel off the meat. I would not actually call the ensuing dialogue a conversation.

"I'll pay by way of a drink," I offered.


"What do you want? Beer? Wine? Planter's Punch?"


"Corona or Sam Adams?" Seriously, I think he found me annoyingly chatty.

"Corona," he grunted. I delivered an icy-cold Corona, got the tiniest sliver of crab meat in return and didn't see the guy for the rest of the night. It's a whole different world out there in crab-land.

People sat around this table deep into the night. Talking and laughing and always picking crabs. Music played, babies danced, people talked and laughed. As night fell, the firepit was actually necessary and you had that sense of being caught in a perfect moment in time. It just doesn't happen like that in real life.

Picking crabs, I must admit, is an art that remains elusive to me. I do love some crabmeat, don't get me wrong, but the process of getting it is new to me. Daunting too. Many of my friends are old hands at this, however. Growing up around here makes it a way of life. And Rebecca cracks me up. She is so lady-like in her pink and green strapless sundress as she ruthlessly wields her crab mallett and stuffs the meat in her mouth. She told us great stories of her granddad teaching her how to pick crabs a child, and as shift after shift would surrould her table Sunday night, she was almost always in their midst. I love the idea of growing up with something like this as part of your life. Knowing how to do it from childhood. Knowing all the parts of the crab from the feelers to the dead man's fingers. Knowing how to steam them (Miller Light and Old Bay) and what to dip the meat in (cider vinegar and Old Bay...always Old Bay, butter is for the weak apparently). And I love the way an activity is connected to a place the way picking crabs and eating crabs is so connected to this place, crab-land.

Sometime after ten Callum looked around and said, "When are we gonna have the crabs?" He'd been so busy circling the house with this huge pack of kids and icy pops and glow sticks that he didn't see all the dozens of pickers at the table. Patiently Rebecca sat with him and taught him every step. (She has photos of this, but they'll have to belong to another post.) One rule, "Don't pick crab for other people," shifted a little in this generational pass-down to, "Pick some for your mom." A fact for which I am very grateful. Even after I went to bed, he sat with her, picking crab until almost midnight. He's nearly eight, just a few more days now, and of this place more and more.

And even on Monday that feeling of walking glowingly through someone else's life didn't end. Monday afternoon we spent again with friends. Due to some camera quirks that have me very nervous, I don't have any photos, but this little guy captures all the joy I was feeling. The sun, the friends, the kids always hovering around, the water, the wind and the sense of "this can't be my life" as I swim out to a boat belonging to the Friday night birthday friends. He took us on a great ride. The water was so blue and the sun so bright. As I floated lazily on my back heading back to the beach, I couldn't help thinking, charmed, I'm sure.