I tried my first oyster when I was ten years old.
I’m standing in the middle of a Loblaws seafood department with my mom, who is in firm, businesswoman mode. We did this often: I would ask (and by ask I mean beg) to spend a Saturday working with my mom while she toured her stores. The reality of this however, would be me, exploring as much square footage possible before that inevitable page would come through the loudspeaker with my name attached to the end of it. Would Jackie Dalimonte please come to the customer service desk?? This was my mom’s way of making sure her daughter wasn’t the latest victim of a Code Adam(retail lingo for a child has gone missing somewhere in the store).
Today, however, I didn’t wander away as I usually would have. When we got to the seafood department, I instantly noticed a Chef. His name was Chris, as my mom informed, and he was sampling off oysters.
“Do you want to try one?” Mum asked
“Okay!” As if I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.
Barely tall enough to watch Chris drive and twist the shucker into the knuckle of the oyster all while scraping and peeling back the top shell to reveal the slimy grey interior, I played it off as if I’d seen this done a thousand times before. Then, Chris handed me the oyster: having no real idea what to do with it, I looked to my mom for some direction. She squeezed a little lemon on it and then acted out the motions to which I would have to make, simultaneously, using my hand, neck and head to shoot this sucker back.
I remember the shell being cold on the tips of my three fingers as I brought it closer to my mouth and, right before it hit my lips, a fresh whiff of the ocean. As I slurped the salty oyster back, I kept my eyes locked on my mother. After I swallowed, she smiled, assuring me that I had done it right. (Midway through this whole experience, I noticed that my mom was making the oyster eating motion with me, as I can only imagine pageant moms do with their daughters during a full glitz pageant)
I liked it instantly, and not for its flavor.
I didn’t know it then, but that oyster was the first emotional affair I had had with food; it became less of a memory and more of an experience.