Bedtime Story: Oscar the Careful Oyster

One fine morning on a sunny day in June, beneath an old dock in a muddy creek near Chesapeake Bay, a little oyster was born and joined with his twenty or thirty thousand brothers and sisters drifting lazily, back and forth with the tide.

And as they all drifted off, they heard their parents cry: “Be careful out there, stay in the grass!”

Oscar, as he called himself, was a very clever little oyster. As soon as he could swim he did his best to stay out of the open water where the hungry creatures lurked, searching for their next meal. From down in the grasses he would call up to his siblings:

“Yo there! You’re too small to swim the sea,

You should be hiding here with me.

Hurry now, before you’re seen,

Get down low inside the weeds.”

But each time he did this they only laughed at him, and went about their business as though they were at the very top of the food chain. “Oh my,” Oscar thought. “They’re headed for trouble, I just know it.”

As the days passed, Oscar searched for food amongst the grasses, being careful to avoid every creature that was bigger than him. One time he saw a school of little silver fish, but being the cautious type, decided not to go out and play with them.

Occasionally he would spot some siblings swimming in the stream and, despite what happened before, would cry up to them to come down. But they only laughed at him again, and one of them shouted back, “yo yourself bottom dweller. You stay down there and before you know it, you’ll have weeds growing out of your ears!” Their laughter faded as they swam off. Oscar sadly shook his head and returned home.

Later that night as he sat in his soda can near the dock, Oscar looked at his reflection and thought, weeds in my ears, indeed! I was just trying to help. Don’t they know that it’s dangerous for little oysters to be running around in the open water? And he looked closely to make sure there wasn’t anything growing out of his ears—and thankfully there wasn’t.

Almost every day Oscar would peer out from the grass to see creatures a thousand times bigger than he. Some of them had fins, big eyes and huge mouths, and swam faster than the fastest tide he had ever seen. Others moved slowly along the bottom on many legs, and had giant claws. And once he even saw a giant swim by with dark feathers and a long beak. These creatures scared Oscar, and he was sure that they would gobble him up like a cookie if they ever got the chance. So Oscar did his best to steer clear of them by staying low in the weeds and sleeping in his little soda can. It was a lonely life down there, but at least it was safe. Still though, he worried about his brothers and sisters.

Not long after that day Oscar woke up and was very surprised to see that his skin was turning hard. “Whoa Nelly!” he cried. “What’s going on here?” And when he tried to leave he found that the entrance of the can was now too small to fit through. So he grabbed both sides and began to push. At first nothing happened, and he felt like crying, but slowly, slowly, he began to wiggle through and then…whoosh, he was free!

“Whew,” he sighed. “Guess I won’t be going back there anymore.” Though sad to be leaving the only home he ever knew, Oscar was heartened by his newfound confidence having a hard outer body. “Well,” he said aloud. “I may have lost my home, but I’m not defenseless anymore.” And with that he rapped his knuckle on his belly and heard a loud knock-knock, similar to the sound that the soda can would make when something hit it.

Another few months passed, and on one fine day in July as the tide reached its very, very highest point, the normally muddy waters cleared to reveal a large wooden dock. Suddenly, almost against his will, Oscar flew out from the safety of the grass, swam three-times around one of the wooden piles of the dock, and grabbed hold of it as tightly as he could.

Surprised at his sudden and reckless behavior, he scolded himself aloud: “Why did you do that? Now I’m out in the open like all my siblings were. Anybody can just come along and gobble me up like a cookie.”

But from below a deep-throated reply said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” The voice was strangely familiar. “Who’s there?” called Oscar. “It’s us son,” came the gentle reply. And when Oscar looked down he saw that his mother and father were attached to the next pile a few feet away. “Hurray!” he cried. “So good to see you both.”

“And don’t forget us, brother.” came a chorus of a hundred voices from all around him. Looking around he saw his many siblings also attached to the various wooden piles. “You see son,” his father went on, “you’re a grown up oyster now, and rock-hard on the outside. You don’t have to worry about the big creatures anymore, welcome home!”

“Welcome home!” they all shouted. And Oscar stayed, living out his days as the happiest oyster in the whole Chesapeake. And when one of the creatures that used to scare him would swim by, he puffed up his chest and cried:

“Yo there! I’m real big and strong today,

Because in the weeds I always stayed.

Safe and warm until I grew,

And I would make it I always knew.”

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