The talk of Oysterback: blues and blue snow cones


OYSTERBACK -- Chelsea Redmond has set up a snow cone stand down by the harbor this summer, and it's been quite a hit with both the watermen and the tourists, especially when the temperature reaches for 100 and the humidity lies so thick on the ground that you could take a jackhammer to it and make a dent in the atmosphere.

For 75 cents, you can get a wax paper cup full of chipped ice and some exotic, sugary flavoring like Mango Peach or Limon Breeze or Blue Hawaii, then sit in the shade of a few sullen pin oaks at one of the picnic tables watching life pass you by, spooning in icy chemicals you'd probably rather not know the names of, even if you could pronounce them.

The interesting thing is, those syrups are quite refreshing on these humid evenings; even the little yellow wasps think so, as they angrily, greedily buzz around you, driven nuts by the smell.

If you know Ferrus T. Buckett real well, and he's in a good mood, he'll add a tablespoon of Pride of Baltimore vodka to your snow cone, from the pint bottle he keeps in the cuddy of his workboat for emergencies like hot summer evenings when the shadows grow long and purple. If you don't, you're out of luck, of course. Ferrus is baiting up lines, not running a bar.

Not that there are all that many crabs to be caught this summer, and only another six weeks of hot weather. That's what Huddie Swann and Junie Redmond and Earl Don Grinch and Paisley Redmond and Professor Shepherd are all talking about as they lean into the sides of Junie's '86 Chevy Sierra pickup, staring into the bottom of the flatbed like the true meaning of life is to be found there in some old nylon rope, a half-dozen bushel basket lids and a bag of aluminum cans Junie keeps forgetting to drop off at the recycling station on his way into town.

Actually, they aren't talking, they're communicating in a series of sophisticated grunts and trying to hide their beer cans from the interested gaze of Lt. Georgia Pickett of the Natural Resources Police. Who is off duty and couldn't care less. She just wants to sit with her kids and her boyfriend at a picnic table and eat macaroni salad.

If leaning into the flatbed of a pickup for hours on end, resting your elbows on the sides of the trunk and communicating in sophisticated grunts were an Olympic event, Eastern Shore men would bring home the gold every time.

But there is a faint breeze off the river that makes being down at the harbor almost bearable now that the sun is setting, and it seems like lots of folks have the same idea, because they're here, too, lounging around on the grass or half-heartedly picking at things to do on their boats because it's too hot to fish and there's not enough air to sail.

Just about right though, to get an Apple Cinnamon snow cone and gossip with your neighbor in the next slip about the weekend people on the other side of you who have had the strangest parade of company coming through all summer, the oddest human beings you could imagine.

The one girl, well, she wasn't really a girl, she must have been about 35, who walked down the main street to the water wearing nothing but a red bathing suit. What did she think this was, Ocean City? You can bet that caused some talk around here. And the man with the green hair who ran breathlessly into Omar Hinton's store asking Omar for baguettes and fromage bleu, as if this were an outpost of Sutton Place Gourmet.

Darkly, someone says they ought to put a big fence around the District, P.G. and Montgomery counties and keep all those Washingtonians in there and away from us normal people. Because those "yupwheats" -- that's the word we all use now, yupwheats -- are really obnoxious, especially that guy from the newspaper who wrote that piece about us, whining about how you couldn't buy arugula around here.

But it's too hot to even fuss about the yupwheats and their weird diets and boorish manners.

So, try a Mortal Coil Chocolate Banana snow cone and let the ice melt on the back of your tongue, feeling the wet chill running down your throat. Treat yourself to some marshmallow on top, an innovation this year, something Chelsea picked up while in Stone Harbor visiting her Mum-Mum and Pop-Pop Crawford.

Delmar P. and Earlene come riding up on the Harley, that big old '62 Electroglide that Delmar's been working back into order all summer.

Chainsaw sculpture

While Earlene buys a couple of Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti snow cones and talks with Georgia about Sunshine Sisters, Delmar P. unloads his accordion off the back of the hog and ambles out to the end of the jetty, where the setting sun silhouettes his bulky frame. From back here, he looks like one of the Rev. Claude Crouch's visionary chainsaw sculptures: Neanderthal Man with Squeeze Box.

Just when you want to say that out loud and maybe get a cheap laugh, Delmar lets loose with some of his blue riffs, and the quarter-notes just carry themselves back on the breeze, filling up the harbor with that slide-back-and-get-down juke-joint accordion studying "Lonesome Sundown Blues."

Delmar can make that old box sound just like Bessie Smith, wailing about lost love and loneliness until it's a magic moment that makes everyone stop and listen, even the little kids.

Even the fish in the river like to listen when Delmar P. plays the blues on the blue hour of a summer twilight. Sometimes the deer at the edge of the soybean field across the river stop eating for a bit, big ears twitching as they fill up with the sound of Delmar's blues.

You could even imagine the ghosts awakening for the night's haunt, snapping their brittle fingerbones to the beat of Delmar's blues accordion at sunset, ordering a Vanilla Wafer snow cone with marshmallow topping -- because this is definitely worth coming back from the dead for.

The sun slowly sets behind the marsh. Then, with the distant roar of a billion angry wings, the huge black cloud of mosquitoes rises up off the flats, looking for blood.

First, people start slapping the fresh bites. Then, one by one, they gather up their things to go home. They slip away into the gray darkness where they'll be safe behind the screens, where the air conditioners will shut out the wet world.

After a while, only Delmar P. is left, playing until it's so dark he can't see the keys. But long after he's gone home, the music lingers on the summer air, so humid and thick it can carry a tune home in a bucket,.

Helen Chappell is the amanuensis of Oysterback.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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