My Favorite Place and a Dozen Oysters

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Aug 10, 2006 9:11 PM

I'm headed to perhaps my favorite place on earth tomorrow.

My friend Emily just got a new job and had a birthday, so we're celebrating by heading down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina tomorrow morning to feel the sting of summer on our skin before it passes us by in our office buildings.

 

The last time I was on tiny Topsail Island was 2004, right before the elections. It was the best vacation I ever took-- late September, 85 degrees by day, 70s at night,  grilled steaks on the deck. I think I read roughly six beach-trashy novels that week-- you know the kind you find on the shelves in the beach house when you get there? Someone else's books, read and reread by a hundred intervening visitors who wished to delve into something that required no effort beyond turning pages.

I'm going down to visit another friend of mine, Sherri, who lives at Camp LeJeune with her husband, Patrick, who just returned from Iraq a couple months ago. I've blogged about this great American couple before, here and here.

That's the homecoming. All together now-- "Awwwww..."Now that Patrick's home, not busting up terrorist junk in Fallujah, he's taking a couple months to relax...by taking a motorcycle instruction course and making his debut in a go-cart race Saturday (that's just this weekend). Marines, right? Can't slow 'em down.

Sherri and Emily and I will undoubtedly be at the beach or at Bojangles, if I have anything to do with it.

And, one night, for dinner, we'll stop at a place right over the bridge to the island. It's on the left side of the road. It has no sign and barely any walls. I imagine when hurricanes come, instead of boarding up, they just lift the plastic flaps and invite the wind to come right on through, hon. Exposed timbers, plywood waist-high-walls, and a corregated roof give it more the look of a lean-to than a restaurant. But you mustn't be fooled or you'll miss out on the best oysters you ever had.

We walk in, ducking under flotsam, jetsam, beer balloons, and the signature of every good beach-town dive where you can have a good meal and a good time-- ceremonially displayed undergarments. The bartender looks up briefly, plucks his cigarette from his mouth, and points it in the general direction of a picnic table along the back of the restaurant.

The table faces the bay side of the island. The lap of waves is close enough to hear, quickening as the occasional fishing boat slides up to drop off a catch for the fish-market next door, which is housed in an actual lean-to.

The table is heavy wood, scratchy on your forearms. The only dishware is a galvanized steel bucket, an oyster knife hanging down its side from the end of a twisted metal wire. The waitress brings us a roll of paper towels and asks us to order off a chalk board. 

I order steamed oysters and watch someone heft a bucket of them straight in from the dock. I listen to them throw 'em in a pot, feel the steam float out from the open kitchen to meet up with the ocean breeze, and watch a dozen get dumped on my table in a splash of warm water still flavored with sea salt.

The table is dusty white under my meal, crusted with the salt and sea of a thousand meals before mine. Sunlight glints off crystals of sand and the dust of sea shells, giving the table a sheen no one bothered to paint upon it when it was new. And I wonder if, somewhere on that table, is a tiny speck, one little sparkle that I left there two years ago, when I ate a dozen oysters and smelled the sea air in a different time.

***

Yep, that's what I'm doing this weekend. Blogging may be light. Y'all take care!