You have not seen a happier man than my father about to have at a dozen oysters. Which is why rather than sweep into town to borrow the car he so generously lets me use to drive to Massachusetts, and bolt back out, I proposed dinner, just the two of us, at one of his very favorite eating establishments in the world (or at least, in town), Legal Seafood.
Truth be told, it’s one of my happiest places to be, too–not Legal specifically, but poised above an icy dish teeming with the chilled, liquidy mollusks swimming in seawater. But especially with someone who loves it as much as I do. When the plates are lowered and the wine is served, he is perfectly merry–a man who’s both anticipating something wonderful and yet fully contented.
We tasted and slurped and rolled our eyes at how sweet, how tender and fresh. At how lucky we were to be able to eat them, wash them down with Riesling (him) and champagne (me).
And we talked: He told me about his crazy schedule (he’s 72 and a full-time anesthesiologist for 40 years, and still makes more in a day than I could hope to make in a month); I told him about new clients I have in the works, and how thrilled I am to be self employed; we remarked how beautiful and smart and loving my niece and nephew are growing up to be. My dad’s colleagues, one-time medical residents of his who have long since grown up and raised kids of their own, and who also happened to be eating there, paused long enough to clap him on the back as they passed through with families in tow.
“Your dad’s a good man,” one said smiling. “And he’s got a wonderful sense of humor.” And my dad grinned, patting his mouth with the starched white napkin and nodding his thanks.
“Wow, Dad,” I said, when the second familiar family came through. “What are you like, the mayor here or something?”
My father smiles as he tips another rough shell into his mouth and rolls his eyes. “I have to make a point to pay attention to this while I am eating it,” he says. “I want to enjoy every last one.”
When he finishes his last of the dozen, he turns the shell face down with finality. “The saddest thing,” he says, “is when you could swear there’s one more and you look and look and realize you’ve eaten them all.”
(By the way, for those of you unanointed in the pleasures of oysters or the generally shellfish-shy: There is this commonly held perception that oysters are slimy, a point I wish to correct. Slimy suggests that the food in question leaves some kind of oily or sticky residue. When in fact, as my fellow oyster lovers know, they’re actually cool and crisp and clean. As far as a fishy taste, I find cooked fish and tuna fish for instance far more “fishy.” Oysters are so clean (and sustainable, I might add), that all the things you might think you hate about fish simply don’t apply. So if you haven’t, I urge you to try just one.)