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A Way of Life: Who Digs?

1882 Women Clamming
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.


Excerpt from A Barrel of Clams, written by Shirley Berton Lesher in 1930:

She took her old clam hod and hoe and waded through the sucking sands toward the clam flats. Clams instead of fish—for a change. She saw a straggly group of men, bending over and busily digging.

“Those clam-diggers,” she sighed, and wished they weren’t there.

She chose a place a little above the group of men and began to dig. The clams were big fellows and there were plenty of them. In no time she had her hod full. It was fun pushing the hoe deep in the sand and turning up a rich find. "Like finding buried treasure—island and all," she thought.

Her clam hod was small, but when filled it was astonishingly heavy. She thought of the men carrying two big ones at a time, up those steps.

Tugging her full hod, she approached the nearest digger, a pudgy man with a white handkerchief hanging from under his hat.

"Would you like some clams?" she asked, hesitantly.

"Huh?" He glanced up, startled.

"Wouldn’t you like these clams? I just dug them for the fun of fit. I—I couldn’t possibly use them all."

He looked at her full hod in surprise. "D ju dig all o’ them—jest sence y’u ben here?"

"Why, yes. It was fun, but I don’t need them all."

"We-ell, by tunket," he paused and wiped his face with a big red bandanna. "Ain’t y’u never dug afore?"

"Just a few. To eat, for myself—and my cat," she explained, wondering why he was surprised.

"We-ell, think o’ thet! Hey, lookit!" he called to another digger. "She dug thet hod ‘s fast ‘s I dug mine. Ain’t never dug none, neither."

Several diggers straightened up to look  at her in mild surprise, and Judy felt uncomfortable.

“Why, say,” continued the first man, “y’u cud dig a barr’l easy.  Sure, I’ll take them clams.  Yes, sir, y’u cud dig a barr’l easy ‘n a tide.” He began pouring the clams from Judy’s hod into one of his own.

“Oh, take more than that,” Judy urged, breathlessly. “I just want a few.  What do you get for a barrel?”

“Sur y’u don’t want more’n thet?  Here—pick some them big ones fr’m my hod. Go ‘head. Why, we git a doll’r ninety-five fer nublins, loke them. Y’u kin git two ‘n quarater fer shockers—big ones.”

“Two dollars and a quarter?”

“Yuh, but y’u git jest ‘s much fer diggin’ nublins—when they take ‘em. They’s s’mjuch easier diggin’. Thanks,” as Judy picked up her nearly emptied hod, “sure y’u can’t use no mor’n them?”

…she hurried over the sand and mud with her clams and burst into the house all out of breath.

“Our fate is sealed!” she cried, “we are going to be clam-diggers….”


A Way of Life: Who Digs?