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Each of our plates was piled high with crab legs, easily the best part of the buffet, our taste buds descended from the seafood rich island that had raised us. We passed around the poor quality plastic crackers, at first, patience feeding off of our excitement but, later, patience leaving the crackers obsolete on the table as we rolled up our sleeves, stuck out our elbows, and used our fingers to pick out tiny but delicious pieces of meat. We spoke only occasionally, except Aunt Ollie; she spoke continually.
We sat hip to hip around an inconveniently u-shaped booth table. Ollie sat like royalty at the end, allowing us to witness her growing frustration with the plastic crab crackers. She’d ask, “Is anybody else having trouble with these?” and we’d all laugh.
The meal shifted from average to epic with a dramatic sigh from Ollie. “Alright, that’s it,” she said, as she showed each of us the crab leg and perfectly positioned plastic cracker. She made us all acknowledge, one by one, that her cracker was properly in place before extending her arms high above the center of the table. “Everybody watch!” With all of us watching, Ollie, for the first time, successfully cracked open the crab. Crab meat, being exempt from all laws of physics, flew from its crustacean cage to spread its magnificence over the entire restaurant. We threw our heads back, and after a split second of stunned silence, our table erupted with earth-shaking laughter. The seven of us clutched our stomachs in hopeless attempts to ease that joyous pain. Tears welled in each of our eyes and moments of silence transiently possessed the table as we collectively gasped for air. We looked over at neighboring tables and laughed even harder at the confused and somewhat annoyed stares of people too sophisticated to find the humor in airborne crabmeat. “Ollie!” her name melded into our laughter in mock accusation. However, no matter how unconvincingly angry each of us pretended to be, her own thunderous laughter overpowered all of ours.
As I look back, ten years later, I realize how much things have changed. Young children were replaced with college graduates and young adults. Cancer tried to tackle Ollie with a football-sized tumor to the stomach, but she lived, her spirit too alive to give up fighting. Family gatherings became less frequent and seriousness visited each of us separately, and, disguised as wisdom, attacked our sense of humor. However, I realize that it’s the memories, like that of a flying crab leg, that are truly important. They are what stitch us together. I often think back to this lunch to remind myself that no matter how much things change and how far apart we are, we are attached, and it’s simple things, little things, that bind us. In life, I hope to have many more of these little, but precious moments because they tie me to the people I love. After all, life would be meaningless without the occasional flying crustacean.
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