At a recent party at Kennebunk Beach, a woman approached Diane – you know, my wife – and me with a platter. To clarify, I wasn’t the one with the platter. It was the woman. Perhaps if I had time to rewrite that opening sentence, the rest of this paragraph would not be necessary, but really, who has the time?
At any rate, the woman – the one with the platter – smiled invitingly and said, as though offering us front row tickets to a Dylan concert, “Lobster roll?” We looked down at the platter, and sure enough, there they were, a dozen or so lobster rolls about half the size of the ones you find at your basic seafood take-out. They looked good. For lobster rolls.
Diane and I smiled back, and said politely – because we were raised properly – “No, thank you.” It was early in the party, so there was no way we were already stuffed with the other apps. She must have known that, because she raised her eyebrows inquisitively and said something like, “Are you sure?” I’m confident she was thinking, “I mustn’t have heard right.” But we repeated our refusal, feeling compelled to explain that we – that we, well, you know…umm…you see, it’s like this:
Forty-some-odd years earlier, my family was sitting down for a summer feast at my parents’ beach cottage. It was immediate family plus my mom’s folks. There may have been others, but I couldn’t tell you who. My grandfather, then approaching seventy, straight out of a Norman Rockwell, ramrod posture, silver hair, attorney-at-law in Northampton, Massachusetts, had a problem. His grandson wasn’t being served one of the many lobsters coming out of the business end of the blue speckled pot in the kitchen.
“Aren’t you having lobster?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“I don’t like lobster.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
I couldn’t remember. Rather than lying to my grandfather – unthinkable – I said, “No.”
“Until you try it, you can’t not like it, now, can you?” he reasoned. Or cross-examined.
I wasn’t about to argue with the man. Though always warm and friendly toward me, he was an authoritative figure. Not authoritarian. But close. I remained silent as he prepared a plate for me and the rest of the family cracked open their crustaceans. I watched as he broke the red shell of a claw, withdrew the rubbery meat with one of those narrow forks, and dipped it into the drawn butter. He presented it to me. I looked at it. My grandfather looked at me. I ignored the voice in my head saying “Don’t do it” and popped the whitish morsel into my mouth and chewed. And chewed. And chewed.
While I may have enjoyed the butter portion of the recipe, I found the seafloor-crawling creature part unappealing. The texture, the flavor…it simply jibed with my taste buds. The only thing I can equate with it is the ingestion of beets, the thought of which immediately engages my gag reflex. Not that lobster would make me gag. It’s just that I’m positive I don’t like it. That being said, if I were playing Desert Island Choices and had to pick one food to subsist on for the rest of my days, and the only two choices were lobster or beets, I’d pick lobster. Not exactly high praise – it’s nothing the Maine Lobster Council would use in their next ad campaign – but it’s all I’ve got, people.
In the years since, I have come to love clam chowder, haddock (preferring broiled over fried, though there’s nothing wrong with a heap of fish and chips), salmon, and – my all-time favorite – swordfish. So this isn’t about seafood. But as I had to explain to the woman presenting us with the platter at the party – just as I had to confess to my grandfather (coincidentally, in the very same room in the very same beach house), “I don’t like lobster.”
My grandfather had momentarily frowned, shook his head, and proceeded to eat his lobster and mine. The woman at the party looked puzzled and carried to platter to people who clearly had better sense.
It’s one of those culinary traits that Diane and I share, like never pouring milk on our cereal. But it’s one that invariably brings with it a trace of shame, of apology, as though we’re concerned our Maine citizenship may be revoked. I suppose most people upon hearing this disclosure feel the same way as I would if I heard someone say they preferred highbush over wild blueberries, or proclaimed that Reny’s was not, in fact, a Maine adventure.
It’s funny. Used to be lobsters were served regularly in prisons, much to the inmates’ dismay. Indentured servants sometimes would stipulate in their contracts that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than twice a week. It was plentiful and cheap. In short, lobster was the food of the poor and lowly.
We’re about a hundred years late in being able to pass ourselves off as food elitists. We simply have to say, with apologetic grins, that we just don’t like lobster. And may we please stay here?