77: Cottage Clambake

77: Cottage Clambake

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Cottage Clambake

Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!

~Albert Einstein

What a crisp, colorful autumn afternoon. Crimson-tipped maples paint the rural landscape as we drive to my aunt’s shady lakeside cottage. Overhead, a flock of geese fly in “V” formation, seemingly pointing to the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, past miles of roadside pumpkin stands and endless fields of late season sweet corn. Finally, my husband turns down a familiar gravel road. I spot the lake, glistening in the warm October sun.

“We’re here!” I rustle my girls from the back seat.

“Hurry and say hello to everyone.”

The small white cottage reminds me of a dollhouse — the good kind of cozy, where friends and family happily gather, spilling into the yard when the quarters get a bit tight. I smile as I walk past the well-manicured lawn, bedecked for fall with orange and yellow mums peeking from cast iron buckets. As always, dried cornstalks climb the back porch rails. I spy a row of perfectly orange pumpkins, gifts from my uncle’s garden. Every year he sends a pumpkin home with each child, just in time for Halloween.

Hopping from the car, the girls crunch through the leaves, hoping to sample appetizers on the back porch table. In an instant, their cheeks are stuffed with crab dip, Amish Swiss cheese, and trail bologna. Family seems to be everywhere. Cousins, aunts, and uncles trickle from the cottage, sharing hugs and gossip in the wooded yard.

Gathered in groups, my chatty Scotch-Irish clan prepares for our autumn tradition: an outdoor clambake, held annually the first Sunday in October. Husks fly off golden sweet corn ears as we all pitch in, removing silky threads from more than forty cobs. Great aunts, unaware that they could be sitting down, scurry about setting tables, slicing juicy red tomatoes, and taking surreptitious sips of homemade berry wine.

The men hover as they always do — around the fire pit. I chuckle at this primitive scene: men tending the fire and women preparing vegetables. Salty steam, heavy with clam and roast chicken flavors, teases my taste buds. What could be better? Somehow, I can’t imagine being anywhere else on this idyllic autumn afternoon.

Sitting around card tables in the yard, we say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving. Then, at long last, it’s time to dig in. Tearing open the mesh bag of steamers, I generously swirl each clam in drawn butter. What a gloriously gritty delicacy. Heaven seems near as a lobster tail is placed on my plate, followed by sweet potatoes and steaming clam broth. My daughters, content with an ear of sweet corn each, amazingly don’t care for seafood.

“I can help you out there,” my husband teases, reaching for their leftover lobster. We laugh with cousins and swap family news before gorging on a final, overindulgent treat — homemade cheesecake and raspberry pie.

As the sun sets, we pour second cups of coffee, warm mugs that prolong our time together, if only for a few precious minutes.

“Don’t forget to take a pumpkin home,” my aunt says.

“Did you get a candle off the mantel?”

Our girls pick their future jack-o-lanterns as I select my party favor — a homemade cranberry scented votive. In the year ahead, it will fill my house with the love, light and warmth of family.

“Thanks again for the clams, the pumpkin, the candle...”

The following morning, I struggle to compose a thank-you e-mail. How can I adequately show my appreciation? Finding next year’s calendar, I flip ahead to October, making sure to highlight the first Sunday in bright orange marker.

Perhaps the best sort of thank you involves simply being present for cherished traditions. Next year, and hopefully for many years to come, I will be there, feasting with family at our cottage clambake.

~Stefanie Wass

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