This is America
There is a reason why we love this country, although at times it is difficult to put it into words. We watch the news, and no matter the channel, the mission of the news is to tell us what is wrong with our country. Shame on them.
My story is no different from most of yours. I grew up in Maryland. I grew up when Pong was the most amazing thing on the planet. Like you, my world was put on hold to watch the landing on the moon—spectacular in black and white on a television that was so heavy it required the strength of two men to move it.
Maryland, Iowa, Oregon. I have had the good fortune to have been to forty-seven states. I am missing Alaska, Idaho, and Maine, and I would move to them sight unseen in a minute. What makes my state special is the same as what makes yours special—I spent my youth there.
Cut grass in Maryland has a certain smell to it, as I’m sure yours does. There is a certain mystique to the Maryland’s fireflies, its humidity, and its sport teams. I knew the stats for every player on the Orioles and the Colts. I was a devoted member of the Junior Orioles. I collected soda bottle caps showing the names of the players of the Baltimore Colts. Collectively, we gathered around a radio to listen to games of our teams. At night I listened to the O’s on a transistor AM radio with an attached ear plug.
The most Maryland thing about Maryland is something most of you have never tasted—steamed crabs. Not Dungeoness, not King, nor Snow…not Stone. Blue crabs. Caught in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Caught by kids hanging chicken necks from a row boat. Caught by men and women setting crab pots from rickety wooden boats.
Maryland was a summer’s day eating steamed crabs. We would buy the live crabs and steam them in beer and vinegar. The crabs were seasoned with a combination of Old Bay and the purveyor’s secret mix of spices. Our senior class party was a crab feast. Crabs were the de rigueur offering at cookouts, and after a game of softball. Part of the attraction of eating steamed crabs was the informality of the feast. You could not buy them in a “fancy” restaurant. The etiquette of eating crabs required a picnic table covered in butcher paper or newspapers, a wooden mallet, a role of paper towels, and pitchers of beer or unsweetened iced tea.
Some would waste time with the accoutrements; corn, coleslaw, and hush puppies. Fillers. Eating steamed crabs required the discipline of a prize fighter—stay the course. Set aside several hours. Pace yourself. Your fingers will endure cuts from the claws. The seasoning will enter the cuts and sting—that is part of the ritual. The meal was akin to a dance marathon. The weaker players eventually fade away; the stalwarts press forth, maintaining a rhythm until there are no more crabs.
My wife and children are in Miami for the month. As compensation, I bought a half bushel of crabs. Eating crabs requires a bit of a religious fervor, a devotion to the task. The coffee table in the family room is prepared for the event—covered with a large black trash bag, a roll of paper towels, a knife and a wooden mallet. I lick the seasoning from each shell, remove the legs, find the hidden meat, and then vivisect the body. I place the empty shells in a large pot, along with a mirepoix of vegetables to make a crab stock.
This is Maryland, my Maryland. In some respect, this is a tiny portion of America, an exercise repeated thousands of times across the country. Different states, different fares. Slow cooked pork ribs, burgers and dogs, sweet corn, watermelon. To an outsider, our sense of Americaness may not make much sense. To Americans, these singular rituals—our traditions, handed down from generation to generation—are part of the fabric that unites us.
So, on this Fourth of July, enjoy what you are doing. Plan on enjoying it again next year and the year after. Remember those who came before you, for it was their traditions that you now commemorate. Few countries celebrate the right of the individual—your right to be you. That is what is special about this place. Independence Day is a celebration of your right to be you.