I remember boiled peanuts; I remember them from the barrier islands of Georgia. On hot Saturdays in summer, my family loaded our boat with beach chairs, coolers, canvas tote bags filled with towels, Doritos, and Mom’s chocolate chip cookies, and we motored off across the rippled brown water of tidal rivers. Crusted salt glittered on the white boat deck, and in the cooler, along with the cold beers and Cokes, there would sometimes be a bag of boiled peanuts. The peanuts, soft like fat tan peas, squirted salty juice when you opened their shells. On the islands there was salt on the boat deck, salt in the rivers, salt on my skin, and salt in the peanuts. And I love salt.
I remember boiled peanuts, and I remember where I ate them. After combing tan sand beaches for olive snail shells, after slapping mosquitoes in the palmetto scrub, live oak, palm tree forest, after trying to stand on our fabric raft in the tidal creeks, I returned to the cooler famished. I pulled out a cold Coke and the ziplock bag of peanuts, I carried them calf deep into the glassy brown creek, I planted my shiny red Coke can in the sand just above where land transitioned to water, and I sat down in the water with the bag of peanuts in my criss-cross-apple-sauce lap. I sat in the salty water in my neon pink one piece and I ate my boiled peanuts.
I remember I grabbed whole handfuls of the sodden peanuts, and I held them underwater: to season them even more. I split the shells by pinching the seam or by slitting them with my fingernail if they didn’t pop when I squeezed, and I sucked those squishy, salty, brown peas out. Sometimes, if it was a three- or four-nutter, I popped the whole thing in my mouth, shell and all, and sucked the salty juices out like sucking the sugary flavoring out of a popsicle. Then I cracked the shell between my molars and ate the soft nuts. A pile of wet shells accumulated on the sand above my Coke can, and I collected them when I finished. Leave only your footprints and all.
Eating salty boiled peanuts in Georgia’s salty tidal waters was one of my favorite childhood rituals, and I think of those marshy creeks every time I eat boiled peanuts now, landlocked in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Our children love boiled peanuts – we buy a large steaming styrofoam cup of them at a roadside stand every summer on our road trip to visit grandparents in Georgia and Florida – but our kids have never eaten them the way I did growing up; they’ve never eaten them butt planted in salty water at a tidal creek’s edge, a cold Coke can within arm’s reach in the sand. Our kids love boiled peanuts, and our kids love salt. And I think this summer, on our trip to Georgia, we will give them boiled peanuts on the islands, and I will show them the best place to eat them.
I am seeking guest contributors for my Andrea Reads America site. This is my entry for the first of a series of writing challenges I will be hosting there as I attempt to collect stories from all 50 states. I hope you will consider submitting. For details on the first prompted challenge, please see American Vignette: I remember. A Writing Challenge.