THE BLOG
08/02/2010 05:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Just Call Me Sweetheart

Have you ever noticed that summer's heat also warms our words? It's a beautiful thing, this warming of words ... that is, when we relax enough to welcome the gift. Realizing this was something of an epiphany for me, and the "ah-ha" moment came at a most peculiar time and in the fishiest of places. It happened like this.

Early this week I was on the East Coast having my last fix of scrumptious fried seafood before getting on a plane going West, back to the land of beef. The fried clams and shrimp hailed from Herbert Bros located on Badger Island in Kittery, Maine. I'm quite serious -- about the place and the food. Badger Island boasts little more than the two Herbert Brothers and their family-run business just north of Portsmouth. And, boy do these brothers know their fish and recognize the catch of wisdom from the sea.

So, anyway, there I was after lunch, standing in the tiny parking lot in the scorching heat chatting with one of the Herberts. We heaped praise on the provider of our meal and discussed the precious nature of perfectly fried shellfish.

All was well, and perfectly digestible, until that Mr. Herbert flashed a radiant smile at my husband and kids, and then turned to me and commented "See you again soon, sweetheart." Husband and kids didn't bat any eye. As for me, I was floored.

Did he just call me sweetheart? And could that phrase really have been as light as his fried clams, as sweet as the delicate shrimp and as honest as the home-cooked meals we observed in the making? Astonishingly, it was, as they were, and Badger Island suddenly became the site of a momentary celebration of humanity.

Later, while driving south to Boston, I pondered over the experience. I felt grateful for his gift and thankful that I hadn't had a kneejerk reaction related or taken offense.

At another point in my life, I might have bristled thinking "how dare a stranger refer to me with an expression of endearment!" Back then, I wouldn't have realized that his "sweetheart" wasn't about me... but a reflection of the sweetness of living in the moment, and having an openness of heart which makes communication (and a shared love of shellfish) possible.

Years ago, I might have wondered if Mr. Herbert was flirting inappropriately. I wouldn't have noticed that any such interpretations were all mine and no intimacy was intended. I might even have thought that "sweetheart" was a statement of flattery directed toward me, personally. But the term "sweetheart" really isn't about looks or attraction or sexuality, it's about kindness and the warmth of connection among people.

So I learned something important there on Badger Island. I learned that I've grown up since earlier in life. In fact, it's almost as if I've thawed some during this summer's heat and with the warmth of the years. I'm not so rigid or prickly anymore, and I see more clearly that the events around me aren't just about me -- as I once might have thought.

Those golden clams and shrimp were naturally sweet and a little bit salty, kind of like life. In hindsight, I see how their goodness lead me to pause to savor -- first the food, then the conversation, and eventually the blessing of having sweetness in our hearts.

The fried seafood at Herbert Bros is outrageously good, the portions generous and the prices more than reasonable. And, the cooks in the kitchen, well, they offer more than bounty from the sea.