I’m reading Forrest Gump. I haven’t seen the movie since it came out in 1994, I’ve never read the book, and I haven’t gotten anywhere near the part where Bubba tells Forrest about shrimp:
“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.” – Bubba in Forrest Gump (the movie)
In fact, I have no idea if that scene even happens in the book [ed. note: it does not], but just being on the page with Forrest, and hearing his voice, and seeing the name Bubba in chapter 3, I remember the movie. And now I’m thinking about seafood. I’m thinking about the shrimp boats of my Georgia childhood, and the crab traps baited with raw chicken, and the fishing poles sticking up from our boat’s white rod holders, and the cast nets that you held the weighted skirt of in your teeth while you got your hands in the right position to spin the white web out over the water. I’m thinking about seagulls squawking and dolphins chittering behind shrimpers, waiting for them to pull their nets in, about the sound of blue crab legs scuttling in the bottom of a white plastic compound bucket, about that dock under a bridge on Wilmington Island where Mom would buy shrimp fresh off the boat.
But mostly I’m thinking about oyster roasts and crab boils and red hot skillets for blackening Dad’s caught-today grouper, and fresh fish on the menu at riverside restaurants, and watching Mom drop blue crabs into a huge pot of boiling water, and then pulling them out as hot and red as a bad sunburn.
My husband and I have moved around a lot, sometimes near the ocean, and sometimes not. We wintered in Maine one year and took full advantage of the lobster fishery there. I remember lobster rolls from a roadside stand on our way to somewhere; I don’t remember where. I only remember seeing the stand under a bridge. The light was beautiful that day – slanted and yellow warm against a crisp winter sky. And I remember lobster chowder at a shack on a rocky jetty that jutted into a wild January sea. Angry icy waves crashed against jagged stone, and we sipped steaming hot chocolate and slurped thick lobster stew as wind and water raged outside.
We weren’t so lucky in Minnesota, though. Minnesota is the farthest from ocean I have ever lived, and it wasn’t until we planted ourselves there that I fully appreciated what in meant to be landlocked. We wanted oysters one night, and I drove to every grocery store in a five mile radius hunting for them. I ended up at the fancy market, the expensive one – Byerly’s – because that was the only place that carried them. When I finally spied oysters on ice at the seafood counter, I wanted to buy – how many? I only knew them by the bucketful – and the oysters were a dollar apiece. I stood there a full minute in sticker shock before I finally bought the six individuals they had. My husband and I got three oysters each. Growing up we had cooked piles of them, mountains of them, filled five gallon buckets with hot oysters and tossed them in a steaming ridge along 6-foot newspaper-covered tables, over and over again. Neighbors stood around those tables with their oyster knives, shucking and slurping and dashing with tabasco, tossing oyster carapaces like peanut shells. Piles of them. And in my little bag in Minnesota, I had six.
But there, in the middle of the country, in the cold heart of winter, more than 1000 miles from the nearest brackish water, eating those oysters was like eating slippery morsels of almost-solid ocean: saline, lusty, and warm.
They weren’t the best oysters on earth, nor is any of the seafood we can get where we live in Virginia, so we don’t eat it often. By the time marine fare makes it through the hills, it is no longer vibrant. It has lost its vitality. We have no idea where it came from, who caught it, how many times it has been frozen. The only fish we can afford are sad and soulless. They taste like silt from the farms they were raised in, or are dyed to look more vital, more alive.
I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten shrimp every way that Bubba describes it, and shrimp isn’t even my favorite seafood. In fact, it’s probably the seafood I care least about. I’d rather have blackened grouper that my dad caught offshore, salty and sunburned for his efforts, standing over hot coals at the end of the day, waiting for the cast iron to glow before he throws in those succulent filets coated in butter and cajun spice to sizzle and sear. Or I’d love some crab-stuffed flounder, or crab au gratin made from blue crabs my brother and I caught in our creek. Or, Mahi-Mahi Dad caught on vacation in the Florida Keys, or spiny lobsters we tickled out of crevices during lobster season down there.
But now that we live in the mountains in Virginia, even though they’re not my favorite, even though they aren’t grouper, or Mahi, or lobster, or blue crab, I’d take a pile of shrimp. Or even just three apiece, if they’re fresh.
Forrest Gump: A novel by Winston Groom. Six foot six, 242 pounds, and possessed of a scant IQ of 70, Forrest Gump is the lovable, surprisingly savvy hero of this classic comic tale. His early life may seem inauspicious, but when the University of Alabama’s football team drafts Forrest and makes him a star, it sets him on an unbelievable path that will transform him from Vietnam hero to world-class Ping-Pong player, from wrestler to entrepreneur. With a voice all his own, Forrest is telling all in a madcap romp through three decades of American history. (From the paperback blurb)