The Sugar Shack-Part 5-It’s Getting Hot In Here!

The early days of summer (although technically it was still spring) allowed us many slow business days during the week. Even though we didn’t have many customers, there was a lot of work to do. Because of the deferred maintenance on the Shack, there were many opportunities for cleaning. As I mentioned earlier, I never would have guessed that the grill was actually silver underneath those layers of grime. Yet due to my mother’s persistence, I was able to get it clean. The fryer had several years’ worth of fried particles accumulated at its bottom, and I felt like quite the archaeologist while peeling back the layers of fried clams, clam cakes, French fries and onion rings from previous generations. Of course, nobody would have known those treasures were down there because the oil had not been changed in a long while. It has a viscosity similar to syrup, but believe me when I tell you, it was not so sweet.

Since we didn’t have many customers during the week, I spent my time cleaning, eating, going to the beach and smoking Muniemaker cigars. Often I would borrow one of the rental canoes and just paddle in and around the neat little coves of the salt pond while puffing on a cigar, I thought I was pretty cool. However, I do have advice for any of you that attempt this feat in the future. Beware of the fact that a lit cigar is very hot at the end and that paddling a canoe requires moving your arms back and forth across your body to achieve a straight line, forward motion. Many times, your arms will need to pass somewhere in the proximity of your face. If you have an 8 or 9 inch lit cigar protruding from your mouth as you do this, you WILL GET BURNED. Of course, you may say to yourself, “Well, I won’t do that again.” You may be right, but you also may be wrong, and you may BURN YOURSELF REPEATEDLY with the cigar. You may then say to yourself, “I will put the cigar down, and then I will paddle.” You may think this is a brilliant idea. However, canoes are naturally unstable, and there are not a lot of seats on them. If you put a lit cigar down next to you while attempting to paddle a canoe, YOU WILL BURN YOUR ASS REPEATEDLY.  So, that’s my little public safety tip to you. Later I will explain to you the dangers of looking for a gasoline leak on a motorboat at night while using a cigarette lighter to see what you are doing.

The weekends would provide excitement at the Shack as visitors would come to spend time at the beach and enjoy the weather. We got into a pretty good routine when it came to serving our customers. My cousin, AnneMarie would take the orders at the window, and write up the tickets for whatever needed to be grilled, fried, or nuked. She would be responsible for handing out the drinks, candy and ice cream novelties. My mother would handle the orders for meatball grinders (if you aren’t from RI, you may have to Google that word), and chowder from the Crockpot, as well as continually prepping the batter for clamcakes, and handling any other miscellaneous kitchen duties. The grill and the fryer were my domain. Or so I thought.

As the summer wore on, we naturally got busier and busier. And as we reached the height of the tourism season, it would be very common for us to do about 40-50 lunch orders in about an hour. This peak time would be miserable as well as unbearable. But seriously, the Shack was not that big of a place in terms of square footage or cooking appliances, and there was a certain frenetic elegance to the dance we would do while fulfilling the orders as quickly as possible. As my cousin would post the tickets on the line, I would load the grill and drop the fry baskets continuously. The exhaust fan which had to be from the 1940’s, would drone deafeningly over the grill and drown out almost all other sound. My mother, who cannot hear out of her right ear, was a whirling dervish, pouring cups and bowls of chowder, making clamcake batter, getting more stock from the refrigerator, and all the while keeping an eye out for any scofflaws that tried to get past paying for parking if they weren’t going to buy something from the Shack.

During one particularly hectic day, as I was dumping onion rings and French fries into the fryer and then loading up the serving containers to get the orders out, my mother made note that I was perhaps not watching portion control as closely as she would like:

“Yaw givin’ away too many onion rings deyah. Weyah gonna go down the tubes!”

My reply, which I literally mumbled under my breath, with a huge exhaust fan running that did nothing to change the fact that it was hotter than hell, and with a stream of orders piling up on me, was (and please ask the children to leave the room for this next exchange),

“Man, fuck this shit.”

My mother, deaf in one ear, under the sounds of that obnoxiously loud fan, and in the midst of flipping some cheeseburgers onto buns, wheeled around, shook a greasy spatula with in my face and with a look that seemed to say, “I will hit you with this”, replied,


Well, she did have a point there. And I conceded. For the remainder of the day, and the season, I literally counted the number of onion rings that went into every order. 8. That’s how many, and I still remember.

Next -Part 6- Winding Down

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