Miss Nettie in Durance Vile

April 20, 1994|By HELEN CHAPPELL

OYSTERBACK, MARYLAND — Oysterback, Maryland.--Along with everyone else in Oysterback, I, Desiree Grinch, proprietor of the Blue Crab Tavern, could cheerfully lynch Deputy Johnny Ray Insley. Can you imagine hauling a nice lady like Miss Nettie Leery off to jail for picking a few crabs in her kitchen?

Chief and Mrs. Briscoe took their week's vacation at Captain and Mrs. Lennie Skinner's rental cottage in Ocean City, leaving that damn fool deputy in charge, so we knew we could count on Johnny Ray doing something stupid as he does every year. But we were not amused when he arrested Miss Nettie Leery because someone told him it is against some shinybutt bureaucrat law to pick crabs in your own kitchen.

Now, I do not care what someone has to say. There are lots of Miss Nettie type ladies who supplement their Social Security and their late husband Alva's railroad pension by picking crabs in their kitchens for a few much needed extra dollars a week. I am here to tell you that I would not be afraid to eat off the floor in Miss Nettie Leery's kitchen, she's that trim a housekeeper. And I have been using her crab meat at the Blue Crab Tavern (***, Guide Michelin) for years without anyone dying of anything but bliss over my Blue Crab Imperial.

But I am also here to tell you that I have heard certain seafood people like Litey Clash sit at my bar and brag about how they import crabmeat from countries where E. Coli is the national bird. Frankly, I would have serious questions about crab meat Amnesty International has listed as a torture device.

And that is legal. But a lady like Miss Nettie picking a few pounds of crabs in her kitchen is against the law? I ask you.

But the minute Chief Briscoe left, Johnny Ray Insley takes it into his little pointy head that Miss Nettie's a dangerous criminal. He bursts into her mudroom, .38 at the ready, and arrests her for illegal picking.

Miss Nettie is still in her apron with her hair rollers up under the net for her canasta game that night, and he's got her in shackles like she's Alonzo Deaver gone off with the Uzi again.

When I got down to the jail, Johnny Ray had Miss Nettie locked up in a cell, and I like to have blistered the paint right off the walls. I was using words I did not ordinarily use when I am not talking trash at second base, and I think by then Johnny Ray knew he had made a serious mistake, but he wasn't about to back down, just because he is so bloody minded.

So I just sat down and told him I had a mind to bar him from the Blue Crab for the next three lifetimes and I was not moving until he let poor Miss Nettie out of the lockup. Then I started calling up everyone on the station phone, daring that jellyfish to stop me. He would have tried, too, but then Omar Hinton came in, waving his price gun around, and stared him down. Omar's had it in for Johnny Ray since he tried to close down the old men's Spades game down to the store as illegal gambling.

Doreen and Jeanne threw their kids into Doreen's Cherokee and headed off to Annapolis to pry our state delegate Orville Orvall off his permanent bar stool at McGarvey's. Junior went after P.B.J. Haddaway, everyone's favorite courthouse barnacle, and Hudson took off in search of Judge Findlay Fish, who is known to be extremely partial to Miss Nettie's crabcakes.

Hagar closed up the P.O., and she and Helga came over and joined me in the sit-in. We just sat there and glared at Johnny Ray. Then Wimsey and Professor Shepherd came in, and Professor Shepherd started a long discourse on civil disobedience and how in Oysterback, people do what they damn well please as long as they don't do it in the street and scare the dogs.

I guess by the time Poot Wallop arrived with a bushel of crabs and several picking knives an we all started to pick crabmeat over Johnny Ray, he was beginning to get the bigger picture. Still, I had to enjoy the way Miss Carlotta Hackett and Mrs. Reverend Briscoe roared up that pink Cadillac and prayed long and loud for Johnny Ray's soul, and Reverend Briscoe led us all in many, many choruses of ''We Shall Overcome,'' which some of us have not sung since the Sixties.

Crystal Tiffany tap-danced on Johnny Ray's feet and told him they were through as a couple. Beth Redmond recited ''Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.'' It was very moving, except little Olivier started in cry in the middle of it and she had to change him on Johnny Ray's desk. You really had to hand it to Wade and Mookie, though. They just sat there and cleaned their teeth with their big old Buck knives.

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