Last night the family had a shrimp boil. It was the perfect night for such a soirée. The air was warm. The sun was a red billiard ball on the horizon. The sky was fingerpainted with gold.
Cousin Bentley was our tireless hostess. She shucked corn, washed potatoes, quartered onions, buttered the French bread, squeezed the lemons, stocked the ice chests, arranged the picnic tables, prepared the dessert platter, carried the heavy coolers, and refilled everyone’s drinks.
Then, her husband dropped the shrimp into the pot and got all the credit.
The evening came alive with voices of the past. There were cousins from the Carolinas, Alabama, and Florida, all gathered around a battered Coleman cooler, rehashing ancient history.
And as usual, I forgot to take pictures. My wife says I always forget to take photos during special occasions. I guess this is because I’m usually too busy running my mouth.
Which is what I was doing during the conversation with one elderly aunt. This particular aunt was sipping from a tall insulated aluminum cup. She is also a Deepwater Baptist who knows all four verses to “Almost Persuaded.”
I asked what was in her cup, she said it was water. But I looked closely and could see that it was indeed red wine.
“That’s not water,” I pointed out. “You’re drinking wine.”
“Well, hallelujah,” she exclaimed. “He’s done it again.”
Of course everyone has aged since the last time we’ve seen each other. This means people are always telling you how good you look. The irony here is that these people never told you how good you looked back when you actually looked good.
When it was time to eat, we dumped seafood from the stockpot with a grand flourish. The heap of fare steamed with the unforgettable aroma of eau du Old Bay seasoning. A smell that is the essence of childhood on the Gulf Coast.
A prayer was said before supper. The cousins bowed heads and grew silent. Cousin Jim was our impromptu chaplain for the evening. He uttered a Presbyterian-style blessing. And we prayed for everyone. The old and young. The newborn and infirm. For the people we like, and those who stink.
And we prayed for my mother-in-law who is currently lying in her sickbed, nearing the end of life. The hospice nurses say she is very close to her final hour, but for some reason, she keeps “hanging on.” This hanging-on stage is tough.
Everyone took a moment of silence. Someone sniffled. My wife squeezed my hand and covered her mouth. And my mind wandered backward in time. To a time when we were younger.
Not long after we married my wife and I threw a big crawfish boil and invited our friends and family. Someone had the genius idea of putting me in charge of cooking. Big mistake.
I was a major dork back then. I still am, but it was worse in those days. Which is why I still can’t look at my wedding pictures without cringing; I looked like I came to the ceremony directly from a NASCAR cup series.
Anyway, I wasn’t a total newbie when it came to cooking. I had worked in commercial kitchens. I knew my way around a cutting board and I had my black belt in handling seafood. But—and this is a big but—I had never facilitated a crawfish boil before. I had no earthly clue what I was doing.
Even so, guess what? It didn’t matter. Because I don’t remember ever having more fun than we did that evening. I manned the boiler, stirring with a big wooden oar, wearing a funny hat, cracking jokes. I drank from a bright red koozie which read “Alabama’s State Flower is the Satellite Dish.”
When it came time to add the seasoning to the boil, I simply used the Dietrich seasoning method—I dumped in about six pounds of Old Bay “hot” seasoning and half my beer.
When we emptied the stockpot onto tables lined with newsprint, I immediately realized that I had committed culinary manslaughter. The potatoes and corn were still raw. And I had used enough Old Bay seasoning to send six elderly aunts to the gastroenterologist with peptic ulcers.
But do you know what I remember most about that night? I remember the prayer beforehand.
It was much like last night’s prayer, only with different names. I remember praying for people we loved. For the ill, for the departing, and for those who mourned. I remember cousins sniffling at the mention of certain people. I remember holding hands. I remember the gentle sound of bay water. And I distinctly remember wondering what all the older folks were so nostalgic about.
Well, now I know.
I only wish someone would have told me then how fast life moves. Because maybe I would have remembered to take more pictures.
Mel - August 9, 2021 7:38 am
First off, praying for your MIL, wife, you and family. I’ve sat bedside to my mom, dad, mother-in-law and grandma that passed from different ‘forms’ of that life stealer, cancer….or could it be labeled a “life giver”? I feel richer for knowing how quickly it can steal away our loved ones, it trains us to live deeper.
Secondly, I’m definitely a picture taker and take a lot of ribbing for my infamous gatherings of the group photos! I love your writings and words (especially the mention of prayers above, old & new). I also like your paragraph indentions….another tradition that is going by the wayside.
Continued prayers of comfort for your loved one.
Norma Den - August 9, 2021 9:20 am
Blessings & prayers from South Africa 🇿🇦
David Brown - August 9, 2021 11:39 am
Blessings & Prayers to South Africa from Elberta, Alabama
Harriet - August 9, 2021 10:33 am
Hello South Africa! Blessings to you from Georgia!
Joan Moore - August 9, 2021 10:50 am
Maybe Mother Mary knows what insight into life and death you are sharing and lingers for you to come full circle. Prayers for the three of you.
beachdreamer1 - August 9, 2021 11:07 am
Precious memories…how they linger. I agree with Jamie. Please take pictures. They’re all we have to go with these precious memories. You’ll know what I mean when you’re older. (I also agree with Joan’s comment). God bless Mother Mary. She’s still here for a reason. Bless you all and enjoy those times with family. You shan’t pass this way again. Prayers with you ❤️
Chris - August 10, 2021 2:33 pm
You don’t need to take pictures…Your words paint very vivid pictures and preserve the memories better than any photos.
Paul McCutchen - August 9, 2021 12:02 pm
It always moves too fast. Pictures do help but even I forget sometimes. Prayers to MIL.
ZANE GRIFFIN - August 9, 2021 12:08 pm
Man one of your best reads!!! We continue to pray for your mother-in-law and your family during this time.
jill - August 9, 2021 12:14 pm
I’ve taken photos since my mom let me use her Brownie box camera. Capturing everything and anything in my path. Reunions, family gatherings, parades, every emotion, every smile, babies and children which are way more fun to shoot pics of than adults. But ya know, it’s funny, all those people who moaned and groaned and scrunched up their faces when they saw me pointing my lens at them, now love receiving photos in emails and cards of all those occasions from long ago. 🙂 Start taking pics Sean, tis never too late to capture life. 🙂
Laura - August 9, 2021 12:27 pm
Please know that you and your family are in our hearts and prayers. That last sentence sounds like it could be on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker, but I (we) really do mean it. Thank you Sean for reminding us what is truly of value in life.
Debbie g - August 9, 2021 12:30 pm
Love family reunions. Too few now days Prayers for all love to all. Thanks Sean
Ann - August 9, 2021 12:43 pm
When we were young there is no way we would believe “ the speed of life”…. Fortunately, even without the photos, we can usually piece together those special times and be grateful.as you are doing now….this entire column is beautifully visual…thank you for these moments
Jan - August 9, 2021 12:56 pm
Beautiful as always …. Thank you, Sean!
Nancy Crews - August 9, 2021 12:57 pm
❤your writing. Instead of pictures, enjoy the moments.
AlaRedClayGirl - August 9, 2021 1:08 pm
Some of my favorite quotes related to life passing quickly and reminiscing are from Dr. Seuss:
1. “How did it get so late so soon?”
2. “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
3. “Don’t cry because it’s over, be happy that it happened.”
4. “Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.”
Denice - August 9, 2021 1:32 pm
Maybe this night was what Mother Mary was waiting for. The family gathered together for a happy evening together and being here to know it in her way.
Mary Guenther - August 9, 2021 1:59 pm
Thank you for making me laugh after all the not so good news I read beforehand. Please keep writing!
Judy 🌻 - August 9, 2021 2:11 pm
My family groans when I announce “one more picture, please” or ask “can we get a couple pictures?” . I got that trait from my Mama – she was constantly taking pictures and she arranged them all with labeling in big books. Now my parents are gone, my children grown – I am thankful for those pictures. I tell my kids, only half teasing, “If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.”
Blessings on you and Jamie during this tender time of “hanging on.”
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 9, 2021 2:35 pm
James Stephens - August 9, 2021 3:05 pm
No one in the South uses that horrible Old Bay seasoning! I have the same memories minus the Old Bay!
Tim - August 9, 2021 8:31 pm
Hey! Maybe so, but we Marylanders do! And exactly as Sean describes it. But mostly on our steamed crabs
Betty - August 9, 2021 3:54 pm
The “hanging on” time is tough. I’ve been there. You’ll all be in my prayers. It’s wonderful that you’re all together right now. Hang on to each other. I really don’t know how some of us could get through these times without those hospice nurses. You’re bring into back so many memories…
Gayle Wilson - August 9, 2021 4:19 pm
Your travel down memory lane and to the present brings back so many memories. Some so far back I think they are tucked in the bottom of a trunk somewhere, others so close that they are still whispering in my ear and playing like a record in my mind.
My husband and I just spent the summer with one of our grandsons in love (he is no blood relation, but he is still our grandson that is being raised by our daughter). We also had the pleasure of keeping the younger two – ten and seven – for a week each at the beginning of the summer and then another round these past three weeks. Can I just say when we returned them yesterday, we were t-i-r-e-d. However, as I wrote in my journal last night about their visits, I wrote – I am really tired, but my heart is full.
I’m sure that even though Mother Mary is on her final journey. She had a seat at the table and her heart was full too.
Continued prayers for each of you.
Mel - August 9, 2021 4:41 pm
You get me every time
Christina - August 9, 2021 4:57 pm
Wonderful aromas have a magical way of stirring sweet memories. I think the pictures are vivid in your minds! All the love to Mother Mary. I bet she savored the gathering in her own way 💜
Linda Moon - August 9, 2021 5:15 pm
Soiree. I haven’t seen or heard that word in a long time, but someone in my family said it often. She knows those four verses, drinks wine, but mostly Shiner Bock beer. You’ve got time, Sean, to take lots of pictures and make more memories. My house (not my phone) is full of them…framed photographs that sit on every available shelf and albums tucked away in closets. And prayers for Mother Mary and Jamie are in my heart.
Linda Holmes - August 9, 2021 5:24 pm
You made me cry which is not a bad thing. Your MIL is a blessed woman. My heart goes out to y’all.
Suellen - August 9, 2021 6:31 pm
They told us when Dad was hanging on that the last thing to go is hearing and they will wait for that one certain voice and indeed once the last of us children got there he slipped away. Or maybe it’s just that Mother Mary’s love for the 2 of you is so strong that she needs to feel like you are going to be OK. A gradual leavetaking to cushion the blow. I’m glad to see the family gathering and showing such love and support.
MAM - August 9, 2021 9:46 pm
I’m the photo taker in the family. I’ve been accused of not being in any of them. I point out that it is obvious I was there. I was behind the camera. And our daughter and son-in-law were here for a few days and I forgot to take a single photo. What’s the matter with me??? Prayers with you, Sean, Jamie and Mother Mary.
Peggy Slaton - August 9, 2021 10:23 pm
What a wonderful tale about a place and situation we have all been in. Like the time i baked and delivered a chocolate cake for a good friend only to realize a little later I had left the sugar out. I quickly called his wife to tell her to tell him not to eat it…too late. That man would eat anything.
Suzi - August 9, 2021 10:26 pm
I love that the family is gathering for shared laughter, tears, memories and fellowship, I believe Mother Mary had a hand in this celebration…
cekey44 - August 10, 2021 12:07 am
When I was young I always heard , “time flys when you’re having fun”. After I turned 40 I realized time flys whether I’m having fun or not. Have fun every chance you get.
Katherine D Kempf Jones - August 11, 2021 3:22 am
Sean – This is so Wonderful & reminds me of my first oyster roast right after I’d moved to Sullivan’s Island, SC in 1992! Thank you for this column & for bringing to mind some of the Glorious Memories I need during these troubling times. Please keep on writing! – DiAn
Bill Harris - August 11, 2021 1:58 pm
Thank you Sean for touching my heart.