I was about eight years old when my father invited an overbearing work colleague, along with his wife and son, to visit our summer cottage on New Brunswick’s Richibucto River. Cottagers are usually happy to share their little-piece-of-heaven with friends and family. But for my mother, even a relaxed cottage welcome had its limits.
While giving the couple’s bored 13-year-old son a guided tour of my beloved salt-water beach, I was stung by a jellyfish, a plentiful resident of the Northumberland Strait. As I scraped away the tentacles and rubbed my burning leg, “Junior” convinced me that the offender was actually a poisonous Portuguese Man o’ War. I didn’t know that the Man o’ War is very large and a telltale blue color. The purplish-red jellyfish I normally saw were tiny by comparison. In fact, the Man o’ War only finds its way as far north as the south shore of Nova Scotia on rare occasions, thanks to the Atlantic Gulf Stream.
Nevertheless, my mother slipped Junior an irritated look when I bolted into the cottage and told the surprised adults between racking sobs that I had just been stung by the fearsome invertebrate and I was about to die. It took her a few exasperating hours to convince me that the chubby, pimply-faced teen was a big, fat liar.
All weekend, I ran to Mom for protection against Junior’s constant picking, teasing and lying, but she did her best to remain carefully upbeat in front of his oblivious parents. My gullibility and paranoia never failed to delight Junior and frustrate my mother. We spent Saturday afternoon digging a bucket of soft-shell clams to steam and eat at dinner time with melted garlic butter. But it became impossible for me to chew and swallow as Junior gleefully described the contents of the little mollusks, with their lumpy gray intestines and tough, shiny black heads. I’ve never been able to eat clams, oysters or mussels since, a great heresy to seafood-loving Maritimers.
When they finally left on Sunday evening, Mom’s delighted relief proved the old adage, “all visitors bring happiness—some by coming, some by going.” My father was never allowed to invite them back, and more than 30 years later, I still steer clear of jellyfish. You just never know.