Good Eats

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2009

Emmy J. X. Wong

Jimmy Culpepper looked out through the bay window fogged up with lazy steam. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a squall shaping up outside, a true-life Maine nor’easter. It wasn’t so much that he minded a good ol’- fashioned nor’easter so much as he minded it today, now. This was the celebration he and his older sister, along with his grandparents, had plotted so long and hard for. Today was his parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary and the gala send-off party for the honeymoon they never had. Today it was their job to make dreams come true. Squinting his pale gray-blue eyes out over the horizon, he thought he saw a fountain shoot straight up from a spout yonder in the distance amidst a heavy shower of snow and hail, but he couldn’t be sure. If he had, it would be a lucky omen. High above Blowhole Bay, Jimmy kept his hopes alive, that the day would turn clear. He couldn’t believe his sorry luck rolling in with the six-foot black choppy waves crashing on the sandy seaweed-strewn shore below.

“It’s gonna turn out all right, Jimmy. You gotta believe.” It was his ever-optimistic granddad, slapping him on the shoulder with the force of conviction. Granddad Culpepper, who spent much of his life raising a family on the Hungry Lobster, through its good times and bad, its ups and downs, always believed that you made your own good luck. You didn’t wait for it.

Jimmy though wasn’t a believer, at least not yet. The restaurant was his family’s livelihood, passed down through each generation. He knew the restaurant had paid his dad, Ollie’s (short for Oliver), way through Bowdoin College where he had met Anne, his mom, both business majors, and now was making good on his sister’s college education at Bates College in Lewiston. Still, he saw his parents worry about making ends meet and it wasn’t easy for them to get away. There wouldn’t be a second chance.

Good Eats dancing parents

In danced Mom and Dad, rolling their mittened hands and sauntering to the beat!

As a youngster, Jimmy remembered sitting in the back seat tickled pink, enamored and mesmerized by the playful roadside signs that led up the steep incline to the red-roofed stucco building overlooking the bay. A collection of signs half a kilometer apart enticed hungry travelers up to the original seafood diner. The first sign questioned, “Hungry?” The last, which sat high above the rooftop on a pole, showed a mischievous red lobster cartoon with a half-eaten sign in its mouth that lit up, “Good Eats.” His mom and dad had been married in 1989, the year his granddad retired. Mom and Dad, who had helped Grandma and Granddad out every summer during their college careers, sunk every penny of their treasure chest back into restoring the diner and converting it into a modern-day summer shack, putting off any notion of a romantic honeymoon.

But today was their day, their twentieth wedding anniversary, and they were scheduled to finally lift off to a long-awaited honeymoon adventure, only a restaurant, two yellow labs and two children later. But now—it didn’t look good.

“Mr. Mavery, is it clearing up?” Jimmy asked hesitantly to the incoming customer ringing the bell over the front door, already knowing the answer to that naive question. Mr. Mavery was Dad’s best friend from college who owned a gift shop in the tourist town.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news, Jimmy,” he offered, brushing the thick white snowdrifts from his dripping yellow McIntosh. He continued, “Can’t plow the roads out to the local airport quick enough before it’s all right back. I don’t think any planes will be gettin’ out to Portland today, ayah?” Jimmy’s heart sank. Today, his parents were supposed to fly to Portland, then on to Nassau, Bahamas, the land of endless sapphire skies, sun-splashed beaches and a buyer’s paradise filled with colorful straw markets.

But just as Jimmy felt like throwing in the towel in frustration, he heard, “Let’s get this party started!” It was Grandma Culpepper coming up behind him. “I just put up the tinselly palm trees, set out the large scallop-shell platters, and dug out the steel drum CD I found at last summer’s yard sale on the Commons. Let’s get going.” Just the sunny grin on her face caused a break in the clouds, he was certain.

Jimmy and Helena, now home on college winter break, tidied up the chairs and tables and Grandpa lit the broilers and deep fry-o-lators. Fish chowder was already boiling on the cooktops, producing tissue-paper-thin clouds of hazy steam. Before long, Jimmy could hear sizzling from the hot fat. Grandpa had cut up a bunch of chewy quahogs and cherry stones in an attempt to approximate conch fritters. Before long the restaurant’s parking lot had been cleared by Mr. Mavery’s employees, and guests started to fill in the open spaces quickly with their hearty pickups and four-wheel drives. There was a party on today!

Good Eats colorful mittens

Before Jimmy could dwell on misfortune further, the front door blew open with a gust of arctic wind. In danced Mom and Dad, rolling their mittened hands and sauntering to the beat! He couldn’t believe his eyes. Mom and Dad were shaking and shimmying like he had never seen before. They didn’t appear worried. Judy Mavery had shared the surprise party on the drive over, and Mom and Dad were clearly in the mood, whether or not blue skies dawned.

Unexpectedly, his older cousins Billy and Samantha produced bamboo poles and a limbo line was started. The steel drums blared in the background and the aroma of salty conch fritters permeated the dining room. Someone turned up the thermostat. Somehow, they had all been transported to Snug Harbor. They were all in the Bahamas! Mom and Dad were the first to bend under the limbo stick. Jimmy quickly joined the conga line and the easy laughter, letting his wrinkled brow and shoulders relax. All his fears evaporated with the steam. He looked over at Mom and Dad who were in an embrace. They seemed so happy. They were already celebrating their anniversary. It didn’t seem to matter that they were going to miss their trip of a lifetime.

As if reading his mind, his granddad ventured a guess, “They’re already on their adventure of a lifetime, son, ayah?” Jimmy looked out at the hovering sign of the Hungry Lobster smiling at him, enshrouded in his parka of fresh snow. The heavy mixture of sleet and powder poured down more heavily now in sheets.

“Say, did he just wink at me?”

Good Eats Emmy J. X. Wong

Emmy J. X. Wong, 12
Weston, Massachusetts

Good Eats Charlotte Eisenberg

Charlotte Eisenberg, 11
Peaks Island, Maine

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