Jemelene Wilson

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July 2, 2013
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Douglas County Moms: Backyard West Coast clambake

The summer I turned 12, my family sold our house, packed up our earthly possessions and moved us from our quaint suburban Southern California neighborhood to the East Coast. The state of Maine would be our home for two years and four days exactly. Although I have never returned, somehow I never let go of its beauty. The truth is, it never let go of me.

My family decided to make a big deal over my 50th birthday last year. After all, it is my Jubilee Year. It’s a time to reflect, seek the goodness in life, allow debts to be cleared or to just reset. Although I would have loved to take a trip across the country, I wanted to spend it with those who are in my life right now, speaking into my heart at present or the not-too-distant past. I wanted to honor folks I call family in a small way.

After much deliberation and perusing the blog of a friend, we settled on an idea: a clambake. If you’re unfamiliar with a clambake, it is so much more than seafood. With our own western twist, we would invite the East Coast to my backyard for a night. We took a little inspiration from Pinterest, a few trips to the store and, using some items we had around the house, we had ourselves a celebration that fed my soul and so much more.

Under a borrowed canopy adorned with hundreds of lights, two rows of tables were set end to end. We covered the lengths with white, shabby tablecloths passed down from my grandmother. We set the tables with bistro plates from the Dollar Tree and dark blue runners. A mishmash of flatware was arranged along with various candles, Mason jars and bowls of lemons to add spots of color throughout. Chalkboards were set amongst the dishes describing what delights would be offered.

The salads were made ahead of time so they could be chilled to perfection. For appetizers, we simply laid out assorted crackers with a variety of cheeses. Grapes overflowed pedestal plates and friends gathered for pre-dinner conversation. Tea and spa water were poured into tall drink dispensers. My son-in-law strategically placed marshmallows into a round bowl for the s’mores table near the fire pit. The largest chafing dishes were used to bake blueberry/peach cobbler from Mom’s best recipe. My dear friend jumped into the kitchen with my brother to fill the roasters with potatoes, corn, shrimp, sausage and clams, of course.

When it was time to eat, Elvis belted out his famous tune from the iPod: “Clambake! Gonna have a clambake!” We gathered, gave thanks for birthdays, friends and delicious food. As we ate with our hands and butter dripped down our wrists, I was aware that this moment would be a treasure. Sharing food with those you love creates a bond of common experience. While feeding ourselves, we were nourishing our souls with an ingredient we all need — connection.

The best parties aren’t about being impressive; they’re about loving one another. Relaxing, celebrating milestones and hearing each other’s stories make us richer. As we take time from our lives to try something new, we grow as a community and flourish in our own families. In our creativity, we learn to make beautiful things out of whatever we have. Whether we call on a friend or dig in our attics, we can draw on what we have in order to make space for our friends.

As we headed to bed that evening, I pointed to the stack of plates on the counter. “Leave those for me” I told my husband. “I know you’ll want to get up early and get those done, but I want to do them this time.”

The next morning, submerging my arms in soapy hot water, I found myself praying for blessings for every person who ate from those plates. Each dirty dish was a reminder of how very blessed I am and hope to be another 50 years from now.

Jemelene Wilson of Roseburg is married, has two daughters and is a substitute instructional assistant for the Roseburg School District. She is one of several bloggers who contributes to Douglas County Moms on The News-Review’s website,

With our own western twist, we would invite the East Coast to my backyard for a night.

Jemelene Wilson
Douglas County Moms blogger

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The News-Review Updated Oct 4, 2013 09:08AM Published Jul 3, 2013 12:59AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.