As we give ourselves over to the festive, sacred holiday season and its joys, we would be remiss gave we not due thanks, and best wishes, to those unknown authors of the Christmas Clamming we owe so much. Them that made clams so much a part of our Noël. With the fading, darker cool of the year, and the turn of our eyes heavensward to an ever-deepening blue, we draw comfort from the solstitial promise of redemption, and set course to free ourselves of mean and fearful concerns, the better to prepare for that future unknown to us.
All around the Mediterranean, festive peoples walk down to the beach, dig up and cook of the fruits of the sea, gift to Man, sweet always new and delicious. Buon Natale! --but not only the Old World loves shellfish with the holiday. in keeping with the spirit, you are most welcome to a Christmas story of clams and New England, in the time the Romans called Saturnalia, its link with delicious mollusks a bridge for us to Christmas Past.
It was early evening, and we children had finished our lessons. Christmas break upon us! Christmas Eve and my brother Tommy with the bowl haircut, pleurisy and knickers and my sister Mary like a small doll of Mother, apron over her dress and blonde curls. Mother was busy at the sink, her curls up. Father was in his easy chair and backache, cursing out the Street, the President and the Governor as was his practice.
The scrabble of toenails was followed by a THROWNK as a shadowy figure threw our door open and Mincemeat the dog, dodged. By the weight of each stamping boot and a smell something like formaldehyde, us kids knew Santa had arrived, in the person of our Uncle Dave, a Cape Cod bachelor and cosmetic dentist.
He walked into the cheery fluorescent glow of the kitchen. Uncle Dave crouched and gestured up at me with his blue plastic child’s sand shovel, new one t’whars and foisted it with pride. Smudged, greasy white fur hat near to falling off his head, ringed in some stained mud the red years ago lost, Uncle Dave set a plastic blue netted sack down on our tiled kitchen floor, drawing the interest of the dog and a glare of approbation from Mother. Uncle Dave’s white beard was real as Santa’s. His red jacket may have said Meservey’s Garage on the back but it was as fine to us with its auto grease as any kind of Santa coat from Dickens.
“Clams fer Christmas? Well I gut ‘em. I gut ‘em good!”
Mother sighed. “Well we do need to put some of those potatoes to work. Father, we have the salt pork then?”
Father smiled. “Yes we do. I bought some over t’Smalley’s Monday last. I didn’t tell, but I had hope in Dave, here.” Uncle Dave smiled, too many of his teeth gone but smiled just the same.
“Where’d you get them Uncle?” said wee Mary, pretty thing she was in her little apron that matched Mother’s.
“From the sand, dear heart!” and we all laughed. “From the sand, and the town!” Uncle Dave didn’t believe in shellfishing licenses and would only say of them, “I clam in the winter -- licenses are for tourists!”
So our Christmas dinner that next day, was all the better for the chowder. All should know that clam chowder, is always better the second day. Santa brought Uncle
Dave new clamming gloves, though he had the small child’s plastic blue shovel buried with him when he passed in the spring from the drink. He fell in a pond. How he fell in a pond by walking into it stayed a mystery but the Lord works in mysterious ways and now you know why we still call it Uncle Dave’s Christmas Chowder, even on the Fourth.|