My Vineyard ; Ava Castro

My Vineyard ; Ava Castro

Elizabeth Cecil

The first time I tried a raw oyster I wanted to like it, but I didn’t. I’d seen my family eat them for years, dotted with cocktail sauce and lemon. Shellfish has always been part of my life. My yard is filled with boats, bushel baskets, and empty mesh bags covered in seaweed. The empty shells become ornaments at Christmas, and crunch under my tires when I pull into my driveway. The walls of my tree house were made out of fishing nets, and my swing was an oversized buoy. So I kept trying, tipping my head back and swallowing the slimy creature without really tasting it…

There I am. My arms, legs, and face are speckled with dark mud from the bottom of the ocean. It’s the middle of July and I’m standing on my dad’s raft in Katama Bay, where he’s been raising oysters for the past 14 years. I’m 12 years old. He drags cages of plastic mesh bags on to the raft and pours each bag out on to the wooden culling board.

One by one, we separate legal- sized oysters from little ones, and throw the empty shells overboard. The small ones get scooped back into bags and placed back in the sea, the big ones will go back in the boat and into the shore.

We will arrive back home with bags full of fully grown oysters, which will either be cleaned and sold or given out to friends and family. And some we keep for ourselves, which get fried or turned into oyster stew or eaten raw right out of the shell. It didn’t take long for me to acquire a taste for oysters.

During the summer when I wasn’t in school but too young to stay home alone, I had no choice but to go out with my dad on the high seas. He taught me how to drive his boat, and I led us in a lurching zigzag path, attempting to stay between the green and red buoys. When helping got boring, I would crawl around on the floor, collecting the little crabs that got pulled up with the oyster cages in the palm of my glove and releasing them back into the water.

To entertain myself, I would bring a fishing pole and try to catch scup off the side of the raft, sitting on a bucket while my dad worked. I practiced diving off the raft, swaying in the wake of another boat while my brother in his life jacket bobbed next to me like the buoys we used as swings.

I collected periwinkles in a paper cup with the plan to eat them for dinner, always losing interest before finding enough to make up a meal and dumping them back onto the ocean floor. And on the days when
I didn’t feel like being a good sport, I would curl up in a ball on the beach under my towel, waiting for the day to be over as my dad, feeling guilty, sorted oysters as fast as he could.

Even now, as my dad hauls up another cage and starts to pour oysters out onto the table, I can’t help myself. I shuffle around the raft and pick up crabs, baby fish, and sometimes even small lobsters, both those alive and those who have fallen victim under my dad’s black water shoes.

When we get hungry at work, my dad opens a few oysters with a knife. We slurp them out of the shell, cold and salty as the ocean that surrounds us.