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Tuesday, January 29, 2013



The following is my son Matt’s favorite story about his grandmother, coincidentally my mother.  It may sound callous or cruel to some so I must provide some background.

My mother grew up at a time when getting sick often meant you might die.  The caution “Put on a coat, you’ll catch your death” was not just an expression.  Mom lost her mom to disease before she was eight years old.  She lost a baby sister when she was four.  Her father died before she was ten.  Mom was raised by her step-mom who was a wonderful grandma to me, but apparently seemed more like Cinderella’s guardian to my mother. 

My mom had many friends while growing up who did not make it to adulthood.  People from her generation knew children who died from a sniffle, they knew men who killed themselves when they lost everything in the stock market crash, they knew many, many young men who left home for war and never returned.  Simply put, mom was no stranger to death and was more numbed to its pain than those of future generations. 

My mother lived on the Maryland eastern shore, on a creek which led to the Chesapeake Bay.  I wish I could have claimed this as the home where I grew up, but my folks did not move to this idyllic house on the water until after I graduated from college.

In the summer when we visited, my kids loved to catch Maryland blue claw crabs off the dock. Mom would throw them in a pot and steam them for dinner.  If this seems cruel to you, (live crabs frantically clacking in a steaming pot for ten seconds before they die is not pretty) keep in mind crabs do not die of old age.  If we do not catch, steam and eat them, a fish will find them while they are shedding their shell and methodically bite off their legs before slowly eating them alive.


When my children grew up they still visited “Gammie’s” every summer for an annual “Crab Feast.”  They went with their friends, crabbed from the dock and Gammie would steam the crabs and serve up a feast along with corn-on-the cob.

One year, several of Matt’s friends were not aware of the size restrictions on keeping and eating blue claw crabs.  They brought up a bushel of crabs for Gammie to steam and as mom was grabbing the crabs with a long-handled crab tong and throwing them in the pot, she realized one was under the size limit.

“Oh my, this crab is too small.”

“Really, we didn’t know, should we throw it back Mrs. Hagy?”

“He really is under sized…” Then as mom flung the tiny crab into the steaming pot she declared,

“Oh well, babies die every day!”

Matt still laughs today at the thought of this sweet little old lady and her flippant remark.


When I am gone I hope my children have a fonder memory of me than this casual comment that they will always remember from Gammie.

And yet: 

The vision of an 88 year old, 102 pound gray-haired lady callously flinging an undersized crab into a steaming pot and saying “Oh well, babies die every day!” somehow was endearing. 
I think it represents the hard life of her generation, her toughness and in a strange way the strength of her religious convictions.  People die, babies die, life goes on and is everlasting. 

“World without end…ah…,”


  1. It was a different world back then for sure. There are some things I really just don't want to know, like where my steaks comes from. Yikes!


  2. It's macabre for sure, but one can't help a rueful smile, none the less! I do miss those days when I lived in DC and we would venture into the hinterlands of a Maryland crab-house and the evening once a week when the mantra was 'all you can eat'!

  3. So she was a Buddhist of a sort..;-)

  4. A different world, and yet...

    I grew up with a lot of death as well and have been known to say rather blunt-ish things.

    Some day, I will be this woman. :-) I hope I am found endearing!


  5. I love this story! I had the pleasure of meeting Gammie and she was a tough cookie. I also remember crabbing there and when I caught my first blue crab I was so excited I told Matt I caught a Boy crab. And he asked me how I knew it was a boy, and I said, "Cause it was blue!!". I then learned they were all blue! ha

  6. I so appreciate you explaining the bit about a fish slowly eating a crab alive. Does this happen to lobsters too? Please say it IS so!!!!

  7. Our depression era parents taught us from different examples. My childrens' friends all called my mom Grandma. "Just call me Grandma." They all came to her funeral.

  8. This post is a wonderful illustration of life and the effects of loss and hardship. My mother was named after a sister who died of influenza at the age of five, and mom's dad died when she was nine, so I can relate to this. Great post.

  9. What a story. I always enjoy tales of others' parents and grandparents from back in a time much simpler and yet in so many ways, so very difficult but those times made them what they are - probably far stronger than we'll ever be.

  10. Stories like this need to be told. If it isn't written down and passed on it might as well have not happened. Our descendants can learn a lot from the pioneers who made their cushy life possible.

  11. I was named after my dad's little sister, who died of a bacterial infection as a toddler, after getting her arm caught in a washing machine wringer. It was quite disconcerting for my eight-year-old self to see the metal tombstone plaque laid out for polishing on my grandpa's basement workbench.


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