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July 13, 2013

Looking Back: Teen years left lasting impressions of crustaceans and more

The Daily Star

---- — Must I always look back and reminisce? It seems I do that a lot, especially when trying to sleep or take a nap. Perhaps that’s normal, especially for us older folk, for who knows what the next day will bring? We can always hope for a better tomorrow, even at this age, and we can always relive many of the past good times as we dream away.

Enjoying and planning for weekends or holidays from school was always a bright spot in my life time. Looking forward to a summer vacation was usually planned months ahead with the hope that all would turn out as expected.

It was one interesting summer back in the late 1940s when our mom arranged to rent a small frame house down in the Island Heights area of New Jersey. It was on Toms River with places to swim, fish, boat and just relax. Our refrigerator was an old-fashioned wooden icebox, which was fed regularly with a block of ice from the iceman’s wagon. (Every once in a while I spot one similar at an antique shop, and memories pop into mind.)

Now, mid-1940 brings me to the age of starting many “teen-agerer-isms,” as I call them. One of the first “isms” is “boyism,” and of course having a younger brother by a year and a half gave me the opportunity of tagging along and just being one of the guys. This was not something that boys in that age group encouraged, so they would try to discourage me from always being in close proximity.

Time to “chum” was always a challenge. There were two long wooden docks going out into the river from the public beach. Fishermen used the deep end while others “chummed” along the dock sides around each of the pilings. 

We tied fish heads or other fish parts on a long rope and lowered it into the water ... waited ... and then carefully, slowly, raising it up, we would net large crabs that were hanging on the bait hungrily munching the raw fish. Into a bucket we collected them and then home to a happy mom for dinner.

We dumped our pile of crabs on top of the ice and Mom and Grandma did the rest. I never cared for “the rest.” I still wrinkle up my nose at the thought of dumping living things into boiling water. Ugh. But that’s the way it’s done. So be it, but I still don’t have to like it and I still don’t care to see those creepy crawling creatures near me because …

One great day for crabbing brought my brother’s friends down to the docks. Everyone was catching their share. I guess the boys got a bit bored with it all, and guess who was handy for one of their hilarious pranks?

What happened next has left an imprint on my mind and emotions all these years. I still get the willies when I pass the lobster tank in the supermarket. Crabs in general just make my flesh crawl even to this very day. Oh, I enjoy a lobster roll or tasty fish chowder, but please don’t plop one of those crustaceans in front of me.

Having nasty, impetuous (and all those other miserable names I can think of) mischievous little boys thinking it the greatest joke to stuff live, wiggly crabs down the back of a unsuspecting gal is not funny. I almost passed out as I shrieked and screamed, loosening my T-shirt to shake them out as I hopped around the doc.  

End of those friendships? You would think so, but I guess kids are still kids, and I did correspond with one of the fellows for several months. Funny, I can still remember where he lived but not his name … so much for impressions. 

Elaine W. Kniskern is a 80-year-old resident of Schenevus and a grandmother of five. She can reached at ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at