Lobster Bake

My father swore the secret was the seaweed.
Donning his custom “Bakemaster” apron,
He’d first dig out a pit in the driveway,
Then lay a fire in it, setting each split log just so.
Next a half barrel, of uncertain provenance,
Appeared each year and was settled on top.
Bricks were laid in the steel bottom to retain heat.
Then came the seaweed, dampened with a garden hose.
My father swore the secret was the seaweed.
Next layers of offerings from Poseidon, Neptune:
Lobster, steamer clams, fresh from the dock,
Followed by butter and sugar corn, new potatoes, yams.
With each layer kept separate from the rest
By a buffer of seaweed, dampened with a garden hose.
My father always swore the secret was the seaweed.
Then the whole epicurean treasure chest was covered in burlap.
My father, and my cousin—the bakemaster’s assistant—
Attended to the fire, to the moisture level of the burlap.
While woodsmoke and steam lazily entwined,
we kids were press-ganged into cranking ice cream,
Taking turns with vanilla, chocolate, and banana.
When Dad announced the feast ready for the masses,
And kith and kin, family and friends, had gathered,
He’d preside over the table and intone:
“May everyone have it this good.”
Then butter dripped from claw meat and corn cob,
And compliments flew.
But Dad dismissed the praise, with a smile and a shrug.
The secret, he’d say, is in the seaweed.

© 2022 Rebecca Bigelow (text)
Image by inuyaki.com from Wiki Commons

Marilyn Moore Bigelow (1937–2020)

Objectively, our mother, Marilyn Moore Bigelow, would hate the format of a standard obituary. Sure, you find out the facts about a person, but you don’t usually find out their story. Our mom was all about stories—whether it was through books (in her work as a librarian, an elementary school teacher, or co-owner of Bigelow’s Quill Bookshop with Dad) or the way she had of effortlessly pulling someone’s life story out of them. Which was great, except when you were the one at the grocery store with her and she’d run into the fifth person she was “just going to chat a minute with,” since you got there.

So we could tell you that Mom was born in Plainfield, Indiana, in 1937, the only child of Ruth Atkinson Moore and Charles Moore; that she graduated from Earlham College in 1959 and married Dad, Paul Jay Bigelow, a few days later; that they raised three kids—Beth (Dan), Becca (Ian), and Mark (Charlene)—in Pelham, Massachusetts, and that Charlie, Ruth, and Paul all preceded her in death, but those are just the facts. Mom would want us to tell the story.

When Mom was little, when she wanted to do something like see the ocean, her parents had to tell her, “We’ll do that when you’re older.” First the country was in the middle of a world war, and then when the war was over, her father became ill and died. So Mom knew from an early age that you should not put off doing the things you love, or that you’re interested in, or that you think are important, because you just don’t know how much time you get.

We camped because she wanted to be sure we saw the world outside our state. We went to concerts and plays; we talked about books. We all sang Christmas carols while she played the piano at her annual open house. She taught us to play games, from the serious (bridge) to the goofy (charades, twister, etc.).  Our house had stretchy walls because family and friends (who honestly were quickly converted into found family) were always welcome—and if there was lobster and homemade ice cream involved, well, so much the better.

Mom enjoyed getting to know people’s stories because as she saw it, people weren’t always alike, but that was okay; after all, “Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?” And that life philosophy rolled into another: We’re all meant to pitch in and make the world a better place for everyone in it. She didn’t much care how people did that because we are all unique, but for her it took the form of volunteering and political involvement. She served on myriad committees for causes and organizations she believed in and was elected to the school board, the Pelham Board of Selectmen, and the Hampshire County Commissioners over the years. People didn’t dare suggest “someone” should do something about some issue or another to our mom, because she was sure to sign them up to help. The Quaker saying, “If not thee, then who?” was definitely one of Mom’s guiding principles.

She loved traveling with our dad and visiting us kids; enjoyed catching up with assorted friends and cousins; doted on her nieces and nephews and, as the family grew, their spouses and children; but most of all, she adored her grandchildren: Sarah (Damon), Matthew, Heather, Nick, Amanda, Josh, and Alex. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s robbed her of the chance to get to know her first great grandson, Emerson, and he, her, so we’ll just have to tell him her stories when the time is right.  

Mom passed away on November 20, 2020, after contracting COVID-19, which caused her to go into decline, and a short stay on hospice. Since many stories have morals, we feel sure that Mom would urge you to wear a mask. It is a kindness to others and hopefully will prevent more loss to another family. We definitely know she’d tell you to wash your hands—after all we shared many family dinners with her.

But the true takeaways from Mom’s story are these: really listen to people, strive to make your little part of the world better (another guiding principle: “I can’t do everything, but I can do something”), and most of all remember life is short; tell people you love them while you can.

Because of COVID, a celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Pelham Free Public Library (http://www.pelham-library.net/friends), Earlham College (https://earlham.edu/giving),  Beth’s team honoring mom through the Alzheimer’s Association (http://act.alz.org/goto/bethluceroalzfundraiser), or the charity of your choice.

© Rebecca Bigelow, November 20, 2020

On First Concerts

My first ever concert was when I was seven; I didn’t pick the artist. My older sister had a mad crush on David Cassidy—a crush of the his-poster-over-the-bed, his-face-on-all-her-Tiger-Beat-magazines, his-music-on-her-45s variety. So for her birthday, my parents indulged her and bought tickets to see him at the Springfield Civic Center.

I don’t remember much about the concert—mostly screaming girls. My sister enjoyed every minute of it. The rest of us were clearly not in the target demographic. My mother, for years after, would wonder why they had paid good money for David Cassidy to shake his white-fringed-jumpsuit-wearing heinie at the audience for 90 minutes. I naively (but breathlessly) waited for the rest of the Partridge Family to come out. I was doomed to disappointment. Did the abstract-painted-modern-art school bus break down? Did Chris and Tracy have school the next day? It was years before the Milli-Vanilli scandal, so someone eventually had to explain to me that just because their faces were on the album cover did not mean they were either (a) a real family or (b) actually sang on the records. My dreams of hitting the road for a world tour with my family before third grade were crushed.

Flash forward a decade and a half, and I finally bought my first concert tickets on my own: Huey Lewis and the News. I didn’t have a crush on him—if he had posters and magazine covers, I never knew it—but I liked his everyman anthems, his explorations of acapella, his catchy horn section, and even his harmonica solos. My husband and I were young, newly married, and in grad school, but we squeezed the household budget and bought the tickets.

Held at Broome County Arena, it is still the concert to which we compare all others. I don’t remember screaming girls, but I do remember people dancing in the aisles, singing along, and begging for more than one encore. Huey had great stage presence, and everyone in the hall was happily along for the ride. We saw lots of bigger names later, but it turns out that the Beach Boys were fun, but so old they had to bring cheerleader-types to keep the crowd entertained; Paul McCartney looked tiny from our nosebleed seats at the Vet in Philadelphia; Chicago were lifeless and out of tune on stage; and Paul Simon was too loud (my ears literally rang for three days afterward, despite holding my hands over my ears for the entire concert).

We saw a lot of the greats that made up the soundtrack of the 80s and 90s, but I think one of the reasons I still have so much affection for Huey Lewis and the News is that I chose the concert myself, and I went with someone who also wanted to be there. Going was a rite of passage and I still look back on it fondly.

My sister, I have to think, finally realized she had terrible taste in first crushes, not to mention music; her later concerts were much more mainstream. Although, I admit to rolling my eyes when she confessed that she had gone to see Barry Williams—Greg Brady!—in Branson a couple of years ago. Maybe her taste hasn’t improved that much.

After we had kids, we took them to some of the concerts they wanted to see, starting with a parade of Disney Channel stars: Cheetah Girls, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers. We learned to bring earplugs and, as the kids got older, we introduced them to more mainstream stuff—yes, even Huey. When they were teens, they had their own rites of passage. I happily dropped them at the Warped Tour—an all day concert featuring screamo and emo and latter-day punk. It was so not my thing, but they loved it.

And that is what the concert-going experience is supposed to be: a shared moment, a rite of passage, a fondly remembered first—whether it’s your technical first with David Cassidy’s jumpsuit or a real first with Huey Lewis’ cry for a Couple Days Off. But this week, thousands of kids, some on their own and some with their parents, attended a concert in Manchester, England. For a lot of them, it was probably their first concert. For twenty-two it was also their last concert. One man, and a handful of his associates, made sure that those in attendance would always remember it—but not because the singer had no stage presence, or was too loud, or because they had sung along and danced in the aisles for two hours. And that makes my heart hurt for those who were there.

I’m angry that something that should be remembered with joy or humor or fondness (or even irony years later if your taste in music changes) or any of a thousand other positive emotions can now only be remembered as a tragedy. I’m angry that those kids were not allowed to hold that elation for even a moment. Music should bring us together—a time to laugh, a time to dance. But this week it is a time to mourn: the senseless loss of life, the loss of childhood innocence, and the muting of the music.

But this last is temporary because music expresses all our emotions, from deepest sorrow to highest delight, so we’ll return to see the horn sections, to listen to the harmonies, and to wonder if the rest of the Partridge Family will show up. Because the music, and our need to share it, is greater than those who would silence it. The beat will go on.


Text: © Rebecca Bigelow

Quarter Rest Image: free clipart

A Bit of Doggerel

It’s Valentine’s Day—at least for a few more minutes. If the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday is any indication, lots of people got stuffed animals and big pink cards covered in glitter (lots of glitter) in my town today. I tend to prefer a more low-key day (because I am too frugal to see much point in buying a card for eight bucks that will be looked at once!), so my day was perfect for me: No grand gestures, just dinner with my husband and son and a chance to Skype with my daughter who is away at the moment. Spending that kind of time with loved ones is definitely my idea of a successful holiday. Whether you celebrated romantically with a partner, as part of a family gathering, with a friend or two, or just enjoyed alone time, I hope your day was as perfect for you as mine was for me.

Although my Valentine’s Day was lovely, there have been some irritants in the last couple of weeks. What better way to slay those dragons than with a bit of fluff and fun? I think I’ll call this collection Poems from Cranky People. Writing them made me feel better. I can guarantee these little bits of verse will not end up on a card you can buy at the grocery (not in pink, not at any price, and they are definitely glitter free), but perhaps they’ll make you smile.  Enjoy the last few minutes of the holiday!

Foreshadowing by Rebecca Bigelow

Each February we pretend
That some rodent can portend
The duration of our wintry state.
But I wish it would prognosticate
Something of more import.
So if, in fact, we must resort
To using a groundhog named Phil
To predict the future, then he should spill
Whether we will suffer, over our objections,
At least six more months of politics and elections.

Lightning Bugs by Rebecca Bigelow

A light glows briefly in the dark.
And like the mating call of a firefly,
Another answers it.
And soon the lights are twinkling.
Some flashes last mere milliseconds.
But some can be measured
In moonlights and cups of cocoa.
And I wonder why
It is so important
To check your damn phone
In the theatre.


The Tchotchke Two-Step


At our house we have a semi-annual ritual dance known as the Box and Bin Shuffle. Its start date is not tied to the calendar, nor is it tied to a moon cycle. Instead it occurs when my husband hears these magic words uttered: Chance of accumulating snow. This year, the call came late—in deepest, darkest January—but we both recognized his call to arms when the Weather Channel announced the threat of four inches of the white stuff last weekend: Time to get the cars in the garage.

Now most reasonable people consider the garage to be a place to park one’s car(s) on a full-time basis. After all, this is definition one in any major dictionary. Most reasonable people are not married to my husband, however. We cannot always park cars in the garage because my husband suffers from an affliction known as “I might need that”-itis. In other words, he is a pack rat. After nearly 30 years of marriage, I finally have him on the road to recovery; so the inside of our house is no longer cluttered with stuff, but the garage is one of his last holdouts.

Our garage is where old computers go to die. There are jars of bits and bobs that might come in handy—someday—and boxes of old games and toys from when the kids were small. No one needs or wants to play the Sponge Bob memory game now. My husband even admits we do not need these things; so in the warm months, he pulls them out to sort them. It is excruciating to watch him decide what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate. We disagree. Sometimes vehemently. To the point that I have now abdicated all responsibility for the garage. Why? I like staying married to him.

This last summer, our very organized daughter (a gene that clearly comes from my side of the family) helped him sort through everything. She placed like items in boxes and labeled them all. There were several trips to Goodwill and headway was made. But then August rolled around and she had to leave for band camp and other college things—although I thought seriously about asking her to take a gap year to finish the job. So, the boxes stayed pretty much where they were through the fall and into early winter. And my car sat on the driveway. Until the battle cry came once again: Snow.

And so he stood in the garage and said he would move things so I could get my car in there. I said, “Some of this stuff could just go back to the shed.” After all we were done mowing the lawn for now, and the kids had moved all their stuff back to college, so we didn’t need the empty camp trunks and such. My husband looked sheepish. “There’s no room.” Now I was gobsmacked. How is there no room in the shed when a bunch of this stuff had obviously come from there? Never mind. I didn’t want to know. Evidently, the pack rat recovery program is a work in progress.

So, he shuffled boxes to one side. Stacked bins on top of one another. “It’s all still labeled from this summer,” he said. “It’ll be easy to sort out next spring.” I didn’t say a word. In the past, I’ve threatened to donate the lot, but he says we can’t just do that. Some of it is important.

And the thing is, some of it is. It doesn’t help that we are at that life stage where our parents’ things are filtering their way to us. “It needs to stay in the family,” my mother says, playing on my sense of tradition and family history. “We knew you liked that stuff,” my sister-in-law said, handing over several boxes of papers from my husband’s side of the family. She was ostensibly here for a visit, but based on the number of boxes she pulled out of her trunk, I suspect she really just wanted her own garage cleared out.

And it’s true I do like this stuff. I like old birth certificates and family pictures. It’s fun to see my husband’s old report cards. I am just not sure I need his siblings’ old report cards or his unlabeled family pictures. Is that Great Grandma Sadie or some random former friend? Who knows! Someday, I may get to put these items in the recycling, but it is a process to get my husband to that point. I tried to instill the “if you haven’t used it or thought of it in two years, you don’t need it” rule. He upped it to five. Or maybe ten in certain cases. Oh, who am I kidding? We still have baby-proofing items in the attic. The kids are turning 21 this year.

And so, here we are. The threatened accumulating snow last weekend never materialized, but it is only a matter of time. He took a few more boxes to Goodwill this week. Baby steps. And I can, in fact, get my car in the garage now.

His still sits on the driveway.


Text: © 2016 Rebecca Bigelow;
Photo: Public domain from Wikimedia Commons


The Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Decluttering Your Home. The website is for a dumpster rental place, but they actually have a lot of great advice for people who want to organize and declutter. If you live with your own pack rat, your mileage may vary.