Column: Holiday brings the yearly ordeal that is oyster stew

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Christmas is a funny time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Christmas is a funny time. It takes forever to get here and yet, it comes much too soon. Growing up, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to find its place on our calendar. I couldn’t wait to start telling people to have a merry Christmas. Christmas was so cool. The Christmas story, the church events, the family gatherings, the presents, the smiling faces, a vacation from school and the food.

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Now the food was the only thing that I had real concerns about. I should have worried about the part where boys were supposed to be good, but I knew that Santa Claus and parents regularly overlooked that requirement when it came to gift giving.

Oh, I loved the peanuts and the nice red apple that we got after participating in the Christmas play at church and the delicious ham that my mother fixed for Christmas dinner. What I worried about each year was my encounter with oyster stew.

I had some issues with oyster stew. It made an appearance every Christmas Eve. I loved Christmas Eve. There was always lots of food on the table at our house after the cows were milked. The vast amount of food was necessary in order to stretch our stomachs enough to make a dent in the huge offering of foods that would require our appetites on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve was the only time all year that we had hot apple cider. I really enjoy apple cider; a fine beverage in my book. The almond bark was delicious.

I loved all of the food on Christmas Eve except for one thing. That one thing was called oyster stew. I believed it to be my yearly penance for being not quite the good boy I should have been during the year.

My father liked oyster stew. He would use that old excuse that parents always use -&160;it’s good for you. While he was growing up, oyster stew had become a Christmas Eve tradition for his family. Grandpa and Grandma liked oyster stew and I guess most of their children became accustomed to it. My father had decided that he would continue the family tradition. It was one tradition that I was not interested in playing a part of. I couldn’t stand oyster stew.

I loved those little oyster crackers. They were good with anything or even by themselves. Sometimes I’d dip one in a little butter that made it slide down real well. The broth part of the oyster stew was palatable. So I could eat the crackers and the broth, but it was what lurked under the crackers in the murky regions of the broth that both frightened and gagged me. It was the actual oysters. They were like tiny monsters from the deep. My mother would put a bowl of the rancid stew in front of me. I would stare at it for a while, attempting to will the oysters right out of it.

I would wonder about the first person to ever eat oysters. I wondered why he did it? What was he thinking? Was he brave or just stupid? I would gulp down a couple of glasses of apple cider for courage. I would fortify my stomach with butter and those little oyster crackers. Then I would tackle some of the broth along with more crackers. As the level of the broth in my bowl lowered, I watched for the dreaded appearance of the oysters. I would hope against hope that perhaps my bowl would not be blessed with an oyster. I would try to beg off eating any more of the stew, claiming that I had pulled a mussel. My clever words fell upon deaf ears. Sooner or later I had to face my demons – er, uh, oysters. I would eat them. I had to because I thought Santa still could do a recall on my gifts.

I tried chewing an oyster once. It seemed to have a truckload of gravel inside it. I normally swallowed them whole. They would slide down as quickly as cold glue through a garden hose. There was no good way for me to eat oyster stew. I struggled with it year after year. I wondered what the purpose of oyster stew was.

Then I discovered it one year by accident. I went to a lutefisk supper at a church. As one does when one goes to a lutefisk supper at a church, I ate lutefisk. It was then that I learned the true purpose of oyster stew. It does serve a function. Oyster stew was put on this earth in order to make lutefisk taste good by comparison.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.