A few years ago, the end of 2016 to be exact, I went shopping with an Italian friend of mine, named Maria Teresa. She prefers to go only by Teresa because as she explained, “Every girl in Italy has Maria somewhere in her name, so I drop that part.” We did more gabbing than grabbing since neither of us was in the mood. That year had been a hard one for many reasons, not the least of which occurred for me on November 8th in the United States as well as all the skullduggery that preceded the ‘vote.’ On this side of the pond, Italians were more than fed up with the political shenanigans and also wishing to sweep out the incumbents.
In any event, Teresa needed to buy a birthday present. We wandered into Tech It Easy, a tech store with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos that make you think you really need them. This chain also has a lot of well-designed items, some of which are actually useful. We came across a set of paraphernalia for a lobster party for six: red-trimmed white bibs with embossed lobsters across the fronts; lobster shell crackers in the form of, you guessed it, lobster claws; long-handled, dual-ended seafood forks and scoops; and even sturdy, pint-sized wooden hammers just in case the crackers didn’t do the job.
My friend wisecracked, “Who would need these? Who fixes lobsters at home?”
“We did,” I immediately chimed in. “When I was a kid, my parents and their friends had lobster and champagne parties.”
“Really?” she said. “I’ve never heard of that here.”
“Black people couldn’t go into most restaurants and sit down and eat back then, especially the highfalutin’ places. But we could buy the lobsters out of the back door or from markets and prepare them at home. Everything was segregated in my hometown but they had so much fun at those parties. More fun than the white folks did sitting in those fancy seafood restaurants, I bet.”
My Italian friend’s face fell. “That’s so sad. That you couldn’t go out to eat.”
“Yeah, those were tough times but they made the best of them.”
Teresa still didn’t understand. She watched me smile and laugh as I reminisced about those times. I told her how one couple, ‘grown-ups’ I emphasized, loved to dance. They knew all the latest teenage dances and the highpoint of these evenings was when they strutted their stuff and did the “Madison,” (instructions below) the “Bop,” and the “Stroll,” with or without music in the background.
She finally gave me a half-smile but I could tell she would never really understand how black folks back then had real fun under such constraints, all the while marching and protesting and fighting for equal rights. For her, it was tainted and for me, too.
But I still remember how excited everyone would get anticipating steamed lobsters, a cup of piping hot melted butter for dunking, baked potatoes, crispy cole slaw, a brightly colored mixed salad, and endlessly popping champagne corks. And all in the comfort of our homes. They could get as loud and happy as they wanted to and they did!
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