I first had the idea, crazy as it was, when our local supermarket added a specialty section that included a water tank filled with lobsters. Poor little devils, crawling about in the murky water, their claws fastened by rubber bands. If Granddad had caught them, he would have tossed most of them away. "Too small," I can hear him shouting.
As you may gather, my interest in lobsters stems not so much from their appeal on a menu as it does from the memory of hauling them from the bay on countless expeditions with my grandfather on Cape Cod when I was a boy. "Want to go looking for treasure tomorrow?" was the way he'd put it. I can't recall ever saying no. The next morning he'd come barreling up our long sandy driveway in his truck, oilcans, oars and clam rakes banging around in back, and we'd tear off down the highway to the fishery for bait. For $1 we could fill a pail with leftovers from that morning's catch—heads, tails, guts. Then it was back up the highway to the harbor.
My job was to carry the oars, bait and 10 little fishnets down to the dock. He took the gasoline can and a fishing rod, "just in case." On the dock we'd pack the nets with bait, row out to his Boston Whaler and cast off. We'd creep out of the harbor at 5 mph, the speed limit. Those were the only times I can recall Granddad doing anything slowly. But once past the jetty, it was full throttle, the Whaler bouncing up and down like a wild horse. It was murder if you didn't have a cushion to sit on.
Finding the buoys wasn't always easy, especially if the bay was the slightest bit choppy. The waves hid them and made it difficult to stand up so you could see. But we had our mark, a large white house on the crest of a dune that stood out like a great ship. Then it was just a question of how far out until we came across our group of buoys.
June 15, 1986
Hauling the pots was a chore. The ropes attaching the buoys to the pots were always slimy, so it was hard to get a grip. Commercial lobstermen used winches but Granddad would have none of it. The magic moment came when the pot reached the surface. Water would rush out revealing...well, it always took a few seconds. At worst, we had an empty pot. But often there would be a lobster thrashing about inside and once in a while—bonanza—two, three, maybe four, such a cluster it would not be immediately clear what the exact total was.
I'd pull them out with care, making sure that the claws of one didn't get me as I was removing another. Babies and females with eggs were tossed back—Granddad insisted. We'd replace the empty bait-net with a full one, drop the pot back into the water and move on to the next, elated.
There was often quite a crowd awaiting us at the dock. Granddad couldn't sell his lobsters, because his license was recreational, so generally he gave them away, although he did have a couple of cronies who felt that a three-pound lobster was worth a fifth of Gordon's gin. Beyond that, it was first come, first served. If you had a birthday coming up, you got a lobster. If you were known to like lobster, you got one. And if you could use a free meal—and there were many people in town who could—you got one.
One spring Granddad phoned to say that he and Grandma had decided to remain in Florida from then on, that the trip north had become too strenuous. He asked me if I wanted the Whaler, the pots and the buoys, but I said no. Somehow the thought of looking for treasure without him had no appeal.
Which gets me back to my crazy idea. Recently my father and I were about to drive to Cape Cod to open our summer cottage. I was in the supermarket the day before our trip when I noticed a small lobster in the tank. The next morning I dropped by the store, bought it and packed it in a plastic bag filled with water and ice cubes. Six hours later we were at the harbor. Taking the lobster from the bag, I cut the rubber bands off its claws and placed it on the boat launch a few inches below the water's surface. For a few seconds it remained motionless, as if stunned to be free, but then it edged slowly out, disappearing into the deep water in a matter of seconds. My father thought I was slightly nuts, but I knew Granddad would understand.
Dave Bingham is a free-lance writer who still spends his summers on Cape Cod.