Our annual family crab feast was a daylong operation. It began with a three-hour drive to the Chesapeake Bay, where, at water's edge, we'd hunt. My two older brothers and I would each tie a chunk of raw chicken onto twine. Then we'd toss the meat into the shallow bay and tug it back toward us, our father hovering with a net to scoop up the crabs we lured in.
When we'd caught a cooler's worth, we'd drive home, where my mother would cook our catch and lay it, caked with Old Bay seasoning, on newspapers spread on the picnic table. Unless you're a pro, picking a hard-shell crab takes forever and consumes almost as many calories as the crab's meat contains. But we five amateurs would work late into the cicada-filled evening, prying off the creatures' backs and cracking their claws to extract flesh that mingled delectably with the spices on our fingers. I don't know that I've ever been hungrier during a meal, or more satisfied by one.
From this, we kids learned the rewards of patience, persistence, and teamwork, plus a glimmering sense of what food costs both the fisher and the fished. Looking back, though, I see a different feat of perseverance — the kind needed to keep three brawling kids fed and busy all day, every day. Now, whenever I eat fresh crab, its delicate meat still carries a faint, sweet taste of triumph.