New Tricks


Our Daily Correspondent

From Popular Science, 1896.

Last November, my brother and I went out with my mother for her birthday dinner. It was a special birthday—she was becoming a senior citizen—so we went somewhere nice, where the waiter told us that it was the start of scallop season and the sweet local bay scallops were a special. My mother ordered them and, after the waiter had left the table, informed us, “I’m going to get my scalloping license this winter.”

“No you’re not,” scoffed my brother. Which is the sort of thing he can get away with, and which in any case was tinged with affection. He and I were thinking of other abandoned schemes: the metal detector, the archery set, the very brief period when our parents walked quarantined dogs at the local shelter. 

The scallops were good, and I thought no more about it.

And then this spring, my mother informed me that she and my dad had gotten clamming licenses and were only waiting to acquire rakes before an orgy of quahog hunting could begin. I told my then fiancé, who reacted with unexpected excitement.

“No way!” he wrote. “Are they transferable? Can we use them? That’s incredible!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it would probably come to nothing. After one abortive Christmas-morning attempt to detect a pile of coins we’d placed on the living-room floor directly under the metal detector, we’d retired it to the basement; after failing to find a bunch of hay bales (it was December), we’d never bothered to set up the archery target. My mother had, in any case, developed a late-life clam allergy and couldn’t eat them on pain of violent sickness. 

But then she called me yesterday. We were discussing my father’s frighteningly brisk acclimatization to his new smartphone. “He’s completely addicted,” she said. “It was painful for him when I locked the phone in the car today, and he was without it until AAA arrived. We were clamming,” she added.

I was astounded. “Did you get any?” I said. 

“Oh, yes. And then Dad went home and cooked himself a clam sauté.”

All of this was so extraordinarily bizarre that I made her repeat it. My father has never cooked anything, to my knowledge, beyond a saltine topped with a smoked oyster and some barbecue sauce, and it was impossible to imagine his doing so. And yet, she said, he had had to go home for a phone call; he had taken the clams and hitched a ride with a kindly motorist; the motorist had instructed him on the preparation of clams; by the time my mom returned to the house—she had been waiting for AAA—a pan of clams was cooking away. “He had put in white wine and everything,” she said. “He had caught and cooked his own dinner!

“We had leftover clams,” she continued, “so we went back the next day and released them into the ocean. But when he got home, Dad accidentally ran some hot water onto them first, so I’m not sure what kind of shape they were in. I felt kind of bad; I imagined that they were resigned to their fate, and were going toward the light … and then they’re dumped back into the icy water, and they have to fight for survival. It’s pretty hard, actually.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.