I was sitting in the caddie yard at the former Great River Country Club (now the Timber Point Suffolk County course), where I had been working since I began teaching in the North Babylon School District. My jobs at the golf course had included working in the Pro Shop, as caddie master and starter, but then the club changed ownership and I was out of a job.
The only job I was offered by the new management was caddying, and that is what I was doing on that fateful day in 1962.
I had caddied in high school and college, so I was familiar with the work. But I found that I was not making much money as a caddie, so I was hoping to find something that was better paying. That’s when Fred, a friend and fellow North Babylon teacher, asked me the question that changed my life.
"Bruce," he said. "Have you ever thought of clamming?"
I remember my answer very clearly: "Clamming? What’s that? What are you talking about?"
Originally a Nassau County boy, I didn’t know anything about clamming.
He told me that he had a friend who was doing it — and making pretty good money — but Fred said, "You need a boat to do it. What do you think? Do you want to give it a try? After all, we’re not making much money caddying — that’s for sure."
So, I agreed to give it a try. Fred knew of someone who had an old boat and motor for sale for $160. The boat looked like an old round-bottomed lifeboat, and the engine, 50 horsepower, was old. How old we did not know, but we were assured that it ran pretty well, so we bought both.
I thought that we were all set, but, no, Fred told me that we had to buy what he called "clam tongs" and a special box to help us gauge whether the clams we dug were of legal size.
I was learning a lot about this thing called "clamming," but we had yet to get a single clam. That would come next.
Our boat was already in the water, and we were told that we could keep it where it was until November, so we were ready to begin making some money — I hoped.
Our boat had two seats, and we decided that each of us would stand on a different seat, stick our new tongs into the water and figure out how to get clams from the bottom of the bay and into our boat. Because of the boat’s round bottom, it was not very steady; we managed to get clams into our tongs and dump them into the bottom of our boat. In those days, when we began clamming, the clams were plentiful, unlike now.
Using wooden baskets, we brought our clams in and sold them to the buyers on the docks. Later on, when we purchased metal baskets for our clams, we realized that the wooden "bushel" baskets held quite a bit more than a bushel of clams.
Fred and I continued clamming for almost 10 years, eventually building our own garvey the next year. Clamming turned out to be a special part of my life, and it all started in that caddie yard a Great River Country Club.
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