Memorial Day Weekend is one of the best weekends in America for a multitude of reasons. For one, it’s a day set aside to honor the men and women who have laid down their lives for this country, which is awesome. Secondly, it’s a holiday that virtually marks the beginning of summer, and that’s equally just as awesome. Finally, Memorial Day is a day typically spent cooking up some of the most delicious foods people can come up with, from the simplicity of dogs and burgs to the rare delicacy of shark fin.
(left) Alligator being fried for the masses. (right) Setup for the boil begins.
One of my closest friends (we’ll call him “Jim”) invited me to his family’s lakehouse for Memorial Day Weekend. His wife was out of town, so he needed an attractive individual to take her place. It makes sense that I was chosen.
The lake, which was manmade roughly 30 years ago, is a small, quiet lake that places an emphasis on privacy. It’s a veritable oasis, so it comes as no surprise that the founders of this summer goldmine see it as a well-kept secret. The lake itself is an elongated oval shape, perfect for the water sports that all the residents of the Ski West Village community enjoy. It’s also home to the biggest friggin’ crawfish boil my sheltered eyes have ever seen.
We pull up to the lakehouse Friday night and Jim’s brother “Jay” greets us with a variety of beers. Getting drunk at the lake is a quintessential part of the entire experience, so I drink– not by choice, but rather to immerse myself into the culture, and to blend in amongst these seasoned lake veterans well enough to– ok, it was by choice. I want to get hammered, sue me. As we drink, Jim regales me with tales of the famous crawfish boil. He tells me about the variety of people that are going, and how the couple hosting the boil were born and raised in Louisiana. He finishes by telling me the hundreds of pounds of crawfish that are brought in are frozen for the trip (from Louisiana) then thawed when they arrive, bringing them back to life in a way that would make Captain America proud. My excitement, along with my bladder, is now bursting at the seams.
After a long and fulfilling day of swimming and drinking, the crew and I begin walking over to the crawfish boil sometime around 6 pm. A soft breeze gently guides the pungent smell of garlic and spices through the crowds of people beginning to gather. The sound of alligator meat being fried whispers an intoxicating crackling, drowned out by “oohs” and “aahs” from young onlookers baffled at the thought of eating alligator. People begin shuffling in around the tables, preparing for the feast…that’s when several men come out holding the coolers filled with crawfish, the pallbearers for a crustaceous funeral.
The deliverers of deliciousness begin dumping the coolers onto the table. The slightly different shades of red throughout the mounds of shellfish give off a crimson glow in the setting sunlight the likes I’ve never seen before. The mountains of food mostly consist of crawfish, but that’s certainly not all. The boil also included (as is tradition) large chunks of corn, sausages cut in half, garlic cloves, mushrooms, onions and small red potatoes you could pop into your mouth like a Mentos.
Once that’s done, it’s no holds barred. Old people, children, and everyone in between start bustling around looking for the best spot on the table.
As I pluck the shells off of my victims and throw the tiny portions of meat into my mouth like a ping pong ball into a cauldron, I become crushed under the weight of an intense “ah ha” epiphany, and the crawfish boil suddenly makes perfect sense to me. I look over to where Jim is and see him shaking hands with a family friend, reveling in their wakeboarding discussion. I see a young boy giving this whole “flirting” thing a try with a female friend while his buddies hide behind a few chairs, pointing and snickering. I see a mother holding her baby with one hand and digging into the sausage with the other while her husband rips a crawfish apart with his fingers. Then, without uttering a single word or taking their eyes off the prize, mom hands the baby off to dad and he takes it in stride, as if it were a running play up the middle.
I scan my surroundings and see all these things happening. At that moment, I realize that the crawfish boil isn’t just dinner. It isn’t just a community meal. It’s a catalyst. It’s a jumping-off point for a storied life. It’s the “Your mother and I met when…” story for that young boy. It’s the “We’ve been friends since…” tale that Jim will tell his own kids one day. It’s the “First thing I remember as a baby…” story that the football handoff child will tell in high school. For this community, the crawfish boil isn’t just their dinner. It’s their history.
Things like the boil are what keep us together. It’s what helps us forget about the troubles of today and the stresses of tomorrow, and the thought of having to vote for one of those three morons running for President. Find your “crawfish boil,” whatever that may be, and your own story will surely follow.