It all started on Friday morning. Boy showed up with an itch. To catch him some catfish. Well, I don’t know a thing about catching a fish, period. I remember riding with my daddy in the motor boat when he went to collect the catfish off the trot lines at the lake. I was a kid. He said the whiskers bite. Now, I was something of a tomboy, but biting fish didn’t interest me. Ripping off the skin with a pair of pliers looked like work. Work did not interest me much either. I should have paid more attention.
It is what it is, I thought (feeling more than a little inadequate) as we hauled off to Academy to buy whatever Boy figured he needed. He took his gift card. The whole thing is his business, I reasoned. He bought the most godawful stuff. And, he paid forty-one dollars for it too. Powerbait sounded like a good thing. Even Gulp! Catfish Dough might be terrific … gourmet cookie dough for fish. I could see that. Until I read the smaller print: Bloody Bloody … Creates a Powerful Blood Scent Trail. I didn’t dare to imagine what flavor chunks fortified it. The worst, however, was the Original Hog Wild catfish dip bait. Now, I’ve lost a goodly percentage of my five senses, including the olfactics, but enough remains to make my nostrils slam shut at the thought of blood dip bait. The reaction was justified. That stuff stinks to high heaven. How can we eat something that likes dead, bloody meals? Never mind. Boy was pleased with his purchases. He called Irma. Do you want to go fishing? She did. Thank whatever Summer Vacation Gods there might be.
Meanwhile, I’m telling myself that poor Boy will dangle a hook, get his face sunburned, catch absolutely nothing, and that will be the end of the Summer Fishing Thing.
Nope. Boy and Irma returned toting two catfish in the bottom of Boy’s tote bag that had held a towel on the trip out. They’d have more, according to Irma, if Boy hadn’t been using his dad’s fishing pole with the complicated reel. He had real trouble with that thing. Irma orders up a push-button rod and reel for tomorrow’s return trip. She recounts the story of how she sat down by the lake expecting no excitement. When she looked up, boy was struggling with his rod and looking back imploringly at her. She laughs about how she started jumping around hollering, “Get him, Charlie!” He was a big one … the one that got away. Tomorrow they will get the big one.
Irma unloaded the two fish from the bag and showed Boy how to hold one for the picture. She’d already told him about the stinger so I knew this was going to be funny.
If I hadn’t known before, I know now who took the fish off the hook. Boy is about to scream like a girl, as he says, when the fish wiggles and flaps around. He’s staying as far toward the back end of that catfish and as far away from those stinger whiskers as he can. When I saw him doing this fish-holding number, I thought how hysterically awkward a nine-year-old can manage to look if he’s uncomfortable with what he’s doing. This is the boy who dispassionately shoots his deer every year with a single shot to the neck. When I asked why he shoots it in the neck, he said, “Dad always says to drop it so I do”. Okay. Backstrap and sausage must be what he’s thinking about when he drops it. I’m not convinced that he’s thinking about eating that catfish for dinner while he’s struggling to keep hold of it for the picture.
“Hurry, Granny!” He’s giving the pose his best shot, but he’s about to drop the fish on its head. One more click is the window of opportunity for this photograph, I’m thinking as my chuckling shakes the camera out of focus!
This goofy pose and the equally desperate half-grin is the best I’m gonna’ get out of Boy on this day. Notice Irma’s encouraging hand trying to will him to keep hold of the thing until I can snap it for posterity.
Boy has been sick for a week from some virus. He was so exhausted after his big fishing trip (right here in the neighborhood) that he crawled into the Big Bed to watch TV and drifted off to sleep. When I roused him two hours later by slamming a door, he struggled half awake and murmured with his eyes closed, I need a push-button reel, as he slid back into his dream of rods and reels and big catfish. Ah, to be a nine-year-old kid dreaming of a new fishing rod and the big one that got away.
It really does take a village, Irma. Thank you.
Boy’s dad cleaned and baked the catfish whole with the same remarkable skill that he brings to the preparation of everything he takes from the wild. It was succulent. I took the old fish platter down from the cupboard to hold the First Fish. I thought it a fitting choice to mark Boy’s contribution to the family table. I picked up the discarded fish bone and ate, pulling the sweet meat off with my teeth and thinking of my husband’s love for eating whole catfish off the bone. It was he who taught me how to eat it. It was a good day in the neighborhood. A fine day.
It takes a village to Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (King James Bible: Proverbs: 22:6)