Friday, May 27, 2016

Rollin' on the River

The Corsica River begins at the convergence of two streams in a swamp-like area on the edge of the small town of Centreville, Maryland.  The city dock is about a mile from the town center.  Of course we never called it the dock- it was always referred to as “the wharf.”   One day I heard my grandmother talking to someone about where she or my uncles lived- down on the wharf she’d said and so that’s what we all (my brothers and sister) called it.  From her house it was a quick walk down to the river.  Along the way we’d pass by Uncle Billy’s house, as well as Uncle Toodles’.  We’d also pass by an old wooden green building.  It was a bar- I don’t know much about the place except that as kids we were instructed not to go near it.   I never did- but now sort of wish I had.  At the river’s start is a swampy area lined with green and brown cattails.  My mother grew up on the Corsica and boy does she like those cattails.  I recall many a time when she would pull over on the side of the road just so she could clip a few to put in a vase back home.

I’m pretty sure I caught my first crab on that river.  During the summer there were a lot of family trips southeast from Baltimore to my grandmother’s house and crabbing was often an event on the schedule.  My mother would borrow someone’s boat-much like she was borrowing a cup of sugar- and we’d be off.  My brothers, sister and I would find a seat and tighten up our orange life vests.  Mom would stock the boat with everything we’d need for a day of crabbing.  That meant a new Styrofoam cooler packed with a supply of ham and cheese sandwiches, and ice-cold Cokes in little green bottles.  There was also string, a few weights and chicken necks.  Wooden baskets and long-poled fishing nets awaited the first tug on a line. 

Really, crabbing is nothing more than sitting in the sun for a good part of the day waiting for the pull of the blue and green crustacean’s sharp claw.  I learned the difference between the males and the females early on and knew the females had to go back in the water.  Catching them was against the law- I heard they didn’t taste so good either. 

Sometimes to break up the monotony we’d steer the boat close into the shore.  My mother would tilt that outboard motor back inside the stern and hop in the waist-high water with a net in her hands.  She’d take a line from the boat and tie it around herself pulling the boat and her four young children as she searched the river grasses for soft crabs.  I’d sit in the back and sip on that cold Coca-Cola and watch as she slowly made her way along the shore line.

With any luck we’d return to the dock with a catch big enough for an evening crab feast under my grandmother’s Mimosa tree.  If the baskets came back empty we’d wait for the waterman to come in and pay for our dinner.  Either way we’d end the day with our hands covered in Old Bay seasoning and the sweet taste of crab on our tongue.