Everyone has stories that they tell over and over. A signature story. A story that’s usually worth hearing, that’s fun to hear and fun to tell. Or maybe it’s a more poignant story, moving and heart-warming. Some of them get repeated so often that they become legends. I’ve got a couple of these stories, but one of the best is the lobster story.

Back in 2003, my best friend Heather and I celebrated our birthdays together. Her birthday is a day after mine (albeit five years prior to mine), and this was the first time our birthdays had come around after we became friends. We both loved to cook, and we could not decide on what we wanted to make for our birthday party (which had a guest list limited to Heather’s husband, kids, and mother. It was an earlier time.), so we made a list of things we wanted to make and chose from them. They were all appetizer-type foods or desserts. So we embraced our quirkiness and deemed our birthday celebration “Appetizers and Desserts.” It was wonderful.

In 2004, we decided on a theme of “Chocolate and Seafood.” Not combined. Seafood dishes and chocolate dishes. I had just bought a cookbook with nothing but soup recipes, and it had an irresistible lobster bisque that we desperately wanted to make. We had other things we wanted to make, but the lobster bisque was the highlight of the meal. It would be magical.

Our birthdays are smack in the middle of summer and so also just happen to occur during hurricane season. I’d lived in Florida for ten years; hurricanes were nothing new to me. Heather was uninitiated into the way of storms. Neither of us were concerned when, at the beginning of the week, Hurricane Charley threatened to make landfall on the southwest coast of Florida. The storm was predicted to cross over the state and exit off the east coast into the Atlantic not far from where we lived.

We were unswayed by the approaching storm, which did indeed make a destructive landfall. On Saturday, the day of our birthday fiests, Charley was working his way up to us. We would not delay our birthday celebration. The cooking and eating would be done by early evening – in time for me to get back home to watch the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics. Charley had weakened some from his trip across the peninsula, but he still packed winds high enough to close the bridges from the island (where I lived) to the mainland (where Heather lived). We wanted to finish in time for me to get back to the island before the winds increased.

Because Charley was still a hurricane level (albeit a Category One, rather than the Category Four he had been when he made landfall), our area went into hurricane-preparation mode. Charley’s effects on the southwest coast had been devastating, which prompted people to stock up on their hurricane supplies – last minute, of course. I approved Heather’s supplies, which had already been in place, and we focused instead on buying what we needed for our birthday dinner. Heather, being more experienced in the ways of crustaceans, set off to Wal-Mart to buy the food, including the lobsters.

Wal-Mart on the best of days can be pandemonium. Wal-Mart during a hurricane-preparation shopping spree is total and complete chaos. The shelves had been stripped of water and canned soups. Not a flashlight or battery was to be found. Even the colored tapered candle had disappeared. People rushed back and forth, desperate to get what they were convinced they needed. And in the midst of all this, Heather wandered into the seafood section and inquired about lobsters.

We have found that not many people seem to know what to do with a lobster, particularly a live one. Add in the absurdity of desiring a lobster as a hurricane bore down on you, and you might imagine how the Wal-Mart staff reacted. In a word: befuddled. Heather had to reiterate her need for lobsters two or three times. She had to instruct the young man on how to catch and wrap the poor, confused creatures. And once she finally had them in her possession, she had to go to the check-out and pay for them.

“What’s this?” the girl at the check-out chirped.

“Lobsters,” Heather replied matter-of-factly.

Enthralled, the girl asked, “What are you going to do with them?”

Deadpan, Heather said, “Set them free, of course.”

The girl believed her. Somewhere in the world, perhaps still working at that Wal-Mart, is a young woman who believed that someone thoroughly intended to release to lobsters into the wild during a hurricane. It’s a beautiful world we live in.

Heather brought the lobsters home, and we cooked them into a magnificent Lobster Bisque. In the middle of cooking the soup, the wind picked up, and we worried some about losing power. But Charley held off, and we dined on delicious bisque as the wind howled outside. I made it home before the winds got too rough, and I never lost power that night. We found out later that Charley had returned to the ocean not 30 miles south of us and that he wreaked havoc on our area, bringing power outages and weak tornados with him. We were lucky to have come out of it unscathed.

But the highlight of the weekend, for us, was the lobster bisque.

So exquisite was this lobster bisque that we made it the next year, during one of the most active hurricane seasons I’ve experienced. That set the tradition in place: each year, whenever a hurricane threatened our area, we made lobster bisque. If no hurricane came through (as sometimes happened), we celebrated the end of hurricane season – December 1st – with the bisque. Five years, we made lobster bisque, perfecting our technique and crafting a most delicious dish. The last batch was made in 2008, just before I left the States to live in Japan.

This year, Heather and I are bringing back the lobster bisque. We were not together at the end of hurricane season, so we decided to save it for New Year’s. I have had my share of storms this year. The making of the lobster bisque heralds a new year and new opportunities. A fresh start. I am not the woman I was when 2011 began. I have taken on new identities – I have become a wife and mother. I have felt the greatest of joys and the deepest of sorrows. It is fitting, then, to end the year with lobster bisque. An old tradition to celebrate what has passed and to welcome what waits for us in the coming year.

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