Enjoy the beauty, bounty and history of Delmarva

Date Published: 
Jan. 25, 2018

While my readers, hopefully, continue to practice after reading my recent articles and attending clinics, I trust they slowly will realize the importance of anticipation, footwork and balance. But this week, I want to share a wonderful personal experience.

It is great fun playing pickleball, but sometimes, perhaps when you are peeping over the snowdrift outside your window, you need to step back and appreciate this wonderful place we call Delmarva.

I’ve always had a keen interest in Assateague Island. I had at least one ancestor on Assateague in the late 1600s, and another built Scott’s Ocean House, a hotel for the wealthy, in the 1870s. My great-grandfather and his sons operated a small sailing ship to take hotel guests and supplies across the bay.

Before the federal government purchased Assateague, there were hunting camps spotted along the island, as well as other barrier islands, and they passed from generation to generation.

Reachable only by water, they were built with remnants of earlier structures from a village that once was located near the Green Run Life Saving Station, and floating shanties that were pulled up on the marshes and joined together. They were typically built with a hodgepodge of available materials and might sleep twenty or more.

One family, with whom I shared a grandmother six generations ago, started a traditional New Year’s Day old-fashioned pig roast for their neighbors and friends at their hunting lodge on Assateague. Guests arrived by boat and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Traditionally, about four in the morning, or earlier, the pig was put over the fire, duck and venison roasted, and soups were started over open fire. The recipes did not come from Martha Stewart or the search engine Google, but were handed down from generation to generation, for more generations than anyone can remember. Before noon, fresh oysters were shucked and left on the half shell, and the clams were put into the soups.

Bitter cold, first day of the year. The sun and air, wonderfully clear,

Gazing across water, Sinepuxent Bay. Sometimes feeling the cold salty spray.

While food preparations were under way, a bonfire was set to warm arriving guests, and the fellows cooking the pig pulled out their guitars to provide background entertainment. One year, Southern Living magazine even sent a reporter.

It was always a special occasion and a chance to catch up with three or four generations of the invited families. Each year’s guest list might include an eclectic collection of artists, historians, hunters, conservationists, politicians and entertainers. Some years, that cold wind came whipping from the north across the island of Assateague, nipping at any exposed skin and creating a real appreciation of wool and goose down. The good fellowship, with an occasional nip, seemed to always subdue the weather.

Two or three decades ago, the federal government took over the hunting lodges located on federal land. Kinsmen invited my wife and I this year to a continuation of their tradition, but from their boathouse, called BayHouse, built in honor of the hunting lodge on Assateague they once owned. Their boathouse overlooks Sinepuxent Bay across to Assateague, and it, along with the good fellowship, provided us some relief from the arctic weather we have been experiencing.

There was a series of tables, maybe 40 linear feet, holding a buffet of these wonderful nourishments from the past, such as original barbecue, venison chili, black-eyed pea soup, prime oysters on the shell, crab soup and even a Bloody Mary recipe from more recent generations.

Some newer members of their family had never experienced their family hunting lodge, but we old-timers shared our individual memories of earlier New Year’s celebrations with their family at High Winds.

For someone steeped in Eastern Shore history and lore, it was indeed very enjoyable, and it was very special to be able to count our blessings on the first day of the year among friends, beauty and bounty.

I admire and appreciate the family who has continued this New Year’s tradition. I have intentionally avoided their names for their privacy, but all their friends would recognize them in this essay and, I am sure, join me in a joyous thank-you.

As difficult as it was for this old pickleballer, I remained on my best behavior, so that I might be invited back for another New Year’s celebration.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.