Mary Louisa (Taylor) Stocker writes in January 1976:
My mother’s family is a mystery. Her mother, Margaret Hayes, was an English schoolteacher who married Irish Maurice O’Connell. Mother was born in Queenstown, Ireland, and came to the United States as an infant. The family lived in South Boston, where her father worked in a livery stable. She had a brother, Daniel, who was two years younger. When she was 10, her mother died, and through the help of a Congregational Church, Mother was sent to Barre, Mass. to work on the farm of Sam and Ester Hamilton and continue her schooling as far as the 8th grade. She never heard from her father again!
After working in several Barre households, she became a housekeeper for the Cooks, who treated her like a daughter and to whom she was devoted. I was named for Mrs. Cook and the Cooks were my surrogate maternal grandparents. No story of my life would be complete without mention of them, so their pictures are also included in the family albums.
Mary Louisa Stocker (27 Algonquin Rd. Canton, Mass.) 1976
Clam Pie is a Stocker family delicacy that most people have never tasted. It’s like a thick New England clam chowder baked in a pie crust. Here’s a recipe written out by my grandmother Lora Mae Stocker. The minor additions appear to be in my mother Mary Lou Stocker’s handwriting.
Here’s what is likely an earlier version of the recipe….
My father Robert H. Stocker, Jr. and my grandfather Robert H. Stocker, Sr., sometimes accompanied by one or more of us children, dug sea clams for the pie at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. I believe clamming was allowed only in months with an “R” (September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April) and a license was required. Because of tides, timing was critical. They clammed only at the low spring tides, which occur when the moon is either new or full. They didn’t go every time there was a spring tide. Another requirement was likely that the spring tide occurred on a weekend.
Sea clams are big, typically 4 to 6 inches in length, but sometimes as long as 8 inches or more. They live buried in sand where they feed by filtering seawater for fine particles of organic matter and plankton. Their feeding makes slight penny-sized depressions in the sand. If stepping firmly near one of these depressions generates a small spurt of water, a clam may be beneath. At least that’s my understanding of how clamming is done. I never found many clams myself even though my father and grandfather would leave the beach with a couple of pails full.
— Robert N. Stocker
When Sylvia and Steve’s son David Nathan Stocker Wellcome went through the Coming of Age program at First Parish of Stow and Acton, the capping ceremony involved, in part, the parents giving a gift to their children who had completed the program. Steve had been unemployed since September 11, 2001. Sylvia was still in seminary and, thus, not earning money of any noteworthy amount. Money was very tight; purchasing a gift was out of the question. So, Sylvia and Steve compiled a scrapbook of family lore, recipes, photos, and other tidbits to give to David.
In that scrapbook, Sylvia wrote about the famous clam pie of blessed memory. In her reflection, “Great Grandpa” is Robert Henry Stocker, “Grandpa” is Robert H. Stocker, Jr., “Great Grandma” is Lora Mae Stocker, “Grandma” is Mary Louisa Taylor Stocker, and “Mom” is Sylvia:
Mom's Clam Pie
by Sylvia A. Stocker
May 23, 2004
When I was little, your Grandpa and your Great Grandpa used to take us to the ocean to dig clams. Now, clamming is something you do only at low tide, and – if you were Grandpa – only on the weekends and in good weather. So our clamming expeditions were rare and exciting. I remember navigating the squishy, wet sand and aiming my shovel at the puckery places where your Grandpa told me to dig. I remember the smell of the ocean, the feel of the salty breeze on my skin – and the plunking sound the clams made as we tossed them into our metal pails.
When we got home, your Great Grandma – with your Grandma’s help – baked clam pie. I remember the family circled around the dinner table, the pie being ushered into the room, and the awed hush that enveloped the family when the first forkful of clam pie hit our taste buds. Your Great Grandma’s clam pie was out of this world!
Now, so many years later, the memory remains. Back then, I was doing a great deal more than excavating clams. There at the ocean’s edge, while the generations of my family worked side by side, I was experiencing an act of creation in which everyone’s contribution counted – even mine, the littlest member of the group. I was beginning to form the building blocks of relationship and team work. I was learning how to open my heart. And so those memories of clamming and enjoying our bounty are deeply tied up with feelings of warmth and love.
Some years ago, your Great Grandma died. And, when we were cleaning out her house, everybody said, “I want the clock” and “I want the dresser,’ and “I want the sewing machine.” And I said, “I want the recipes.” I searched four boxes packed to overflowing for my grandmother’s clam pie recipe until eventually I found it. And this is what it said, more of less: “Double crust, enough for large pie dish. Clams. Sauce for clams. Salt and pepper. Bake in moderate oven until done.”
Ultimately, I don’t suppose there is a recipe for raising up kids. It’s not a science, but, at best, an imprecise art. Most of what I know about it can be drawn from those memories of clam pie – everyone’s contribution counts; love glues a team together; and a full tummy doesn’t hurt either.