A shore dinner
Before World War II if we talked about a shore dinner, we meant exactly that. It was more than a picnic; it was dinner. Picnics were often a quick pickup affair with mostly finger food, and maybe hot dogs if we planned ahead a bit. Often we had a picnic in the back yard on a hot summer day. But a shore dinner was much more than a picnic.
Our family often did a shore dinner on the Fourth of July, but at other times as well, throughout the summer. Some of my earliest memories of them would be down at my Eaton grandparents on Little Deer Isle. They lived just before the causeway to big Deer Isle, and when the tide is right, there are extensive clamflats there between the islands.
Uncle Orrin Eaton loved to dig clams, and he and my father would head out early when the tide was low to get a mess of clams. I would tag along, but mostly just to pick up the clams as the men dug them. Uncle Orrin could spot them from way off, and when we got closer he would stamp his foot and the clams would give themselves away by spurting water into the air as much as two feet sometimes.
He would take his clam hoe and dig just so, with a little wiggle so as not to puncture the clams. Then he would turn over the mud and there they would be, sometimes two or three nice big clams. They were often the same color as the mud, so it took a sharp eye to spot them.
In the mean time my grandfather, or maybe my grandmother Eaton, would be going for lobsters from somebody nearby. They would pay maybe 25 cents a pound, or maybe actually get them free. Grammie Eaton was the neighborhood nurse and caregiver, and perhaps she was getting a payback on some previous good turn she had done.
Maybe our contribution was corn, nice big ears of corn on the cob from Dad’s garden, and possibly fresh green peas. Of course there would be potato salad, deviled eggs, pickles and whatever, fresh from the garden, or from last years canning season. All of this would be bundled up in baskets and bags, along with a supply of tablecloths and napkins. And of course, there was cold lemonade and Kool-Aid in abundance.
It was just a short walk down to the shore from my grandparent’s home, and we would set up shop on the ledges above the high tide mark. The men and us kids gathered driftwood for the fire and armloads of seaweed, a fire large enough to boil lobsters and enough seaweed to steam clams and corn on the hot rocks.
Needless to say, we all ate like kings and queens there on the seashore. Finally, when we were almost too stuffed to move, Grammie would bring out the pies and cake, usually apple pie, especially for the men, and perhaps Boston cream pie for the women, but usually we all wound up having some of each. There always was plenty.
The grown ups would sit around for a while, “yackin” like they do, and us kids would start checking around to see what the tide had washed up, and the tide pools for interesting creatures hiding there. Tide pools are a great education for a kid. Soon the incoming tide would be spreading over those clamflats that had baked in the hot sun for hours and we would start to wade and splash around in water warm as a Saturday night bath. The incoming tide is the time to swim in salt water. By the time it gets to high tide it’s too cold to stay in very long.
As the years progressed to World War II and beyond, and tourism began to replace local industry, restaurants began to specialize in the shore dinner more. But those of us who remember those good times on the seashore find it doesn’t quite measure up to the old fashioned shore dinner.
When the CCC boys built the Sagamore Park picnic area in 1936 or ‘37, which is now part of Camden Hills State Park, they created a special walkway along the ledges there by the sea. It was a nice smooth path with stone steps and mason work where necessary along with stone tables and fireplaces built appropriately along the way. I remember a number of such outings with my parents before and during the War. Sometimes the price of lobsters would drop to 35 or 40 cents per pound, and we would have lobster, but often they were too expensive, so we would have clams, corn, and hot dogs, perhaps fortified with a few cream cheese or baloney sandwiches, and big jug of Kool-Aid.
Helen and I often remember the good times we had picnicking there with friends when we were in high school. On at least one occasion we actually bought lobsters and cooked them there along with our friend Jack Henderson. No, we didn’t cook Jack! Only the lobsters, and some hotdogs and marshmallows.
We would plan to go early so as to get a good spot. It really was an exceptional place for a shore dinner or a picnic, A lot has changed now, some better, some not so good, but if you haven’t been there for a picnic, you have missed something special.