I come from a family of four boys with no shortage of opinions on a lifetime of topics. The right and wrong way to train a gundog. Bourbon versus Scotch. The best trolling spread for yellowfin tuna. Getting up with the sun or sleeping in. But we all agree that when throwing an oyster roast, you can’t do much better than a couple of bushels of Beaufort clusters tossed over an open fire. And there’s no place we’d rather do that than on Fripp Island, South Carolina, where my parents built a modest house in the mid-eighties with the prescient goal of providing a place for the family to gather decades after we left home.
The firepit, ringed with stones from upstate South Carolina, with seats we built from salvaged portions of dock pilings and lumber washed up on the beach, is a more recent addition. It sits under a salt-pruned live oak, twisted and sculpted by the barrier island elements. We meet there for an oyster roast each February, Mom and Dad coming from Savannah, and others traveling from as far as Oregon and New York. The entourage includes nephews and nieces ranging from three to thirty years old and, of course, an assortment of dogs (Pritchard, Story, Raleigh, and Boozie).
My oldest brother, Bob, the one with the strongest opinions, likes to give everyone a responsibility. Someone is on wood duty, music duty, Bloody Mary duty (me!), and so on. We start the fire early with a handful of fat lighter collected during duck season. The oysters, which come from Maggioni Oyster Company, a fifth-generation family business based nearby on St. Helena Island, soon follow. They get spread half a bushel at a time on a piece of sheet metal over the fire, then covered in salt-water-soaked burlap. The day unfolds, time measured only by the rising or falling tide in the creek and the next shovel load of oysters on the homemade wooden table. A cornhole tournament (more like a battle royal) ensues, and the winning team sips bourbon from a small plastic Cornhole Cup trophy.
By nightfall folks start peeling off, putting kids to bed or watching a college hoops game, while others settle in around the fire. From the back porch you can see the glow of the flames, the voices and laughter rising into the oak branches. We won’t all gather again until summer, when the Fripp house becomes our Fourth of July headquarters. Oysters will not be on the menu, but an appreciation of place, tradition, and family will. The house has weathered hurricanes, teens, and toddlers, and required an addition to accommodate the growing clan. I hope it becomes a place that my kids and their kids and grandkids continue to enjoy long after I’ve gone to the great oyster roast in the sky.