Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fish Food for Thought

Written By:  Levena Lindahl

            As I get older, I find more and more of my childhood summer memories are fading out into a haze, a blur of pleasant memories peppered with snapshots of clarity.  This is one such snapshot from the summer when I was seven years old.
            It was my turn to spend a week with my Grandpa Jim and Grandma Sylvia at their little house by Chautauqua Lake in New York.  I had brought along my battered copy of ‘The Hobbit’, my bike and the fishing pole my grandpa had given me, feeling more than prepared for what would have to be the best visit ever.  It was so quiet and peaceful at their house.  I didn’t have any little brothers bothering me, but then again, I didn’t have anyone to bother and play with either.  What child expects to be bored at their grandparents’ house??
            Boredom is a dangerous thing when you are a young child; I had already helped my grandpa pick up all the pine cones and acorns from the yard and I had finished rereading my book.  I had even ridden my bike around the neighborhood a few times, before melting onto the sofa in a puddle of spiritless child.  I was so Bored.
            My grandpa came in, wearing his fishing fedora with the feathers on the band, a pair of worn jeans and his suspenders.  He gave me a grin, nodding his head towards the kitchen and the door outside.  “Nice day out.  Why don’t we go pick out some worms and go fishing?”
            I perked right up and eagerly nodded, following my grandpa out to his garage where he drew out his worm box.  It was a plastic box, full of little wadded up paper looking things and the loamy smell of dirt and something that had to be worms.  I dug through it, easily picking out what I declared to be ‘lucky’ worms, which grandpa put into a small Styrofoam container with a handful of the wet paper stuff. 
We headed out in grandpa’s old red pickup truck after carefully loading the worm container, fishing poles, and his old tackle box into the back.  I watched the scenery pass by, more than a bit confused as to where we were going.  The lake was the other way, and when I asked where we were going all I got was a smile and a mysterious, “You’ll see when we get there.”
I finally figured out where we were going when I saw the giant playground that marked the Bemus Point Park.  I was beyond excited as we parked, hopping out and running to the back of the truck, all but vibrating in my excitement.  Not only could we fish, but there was an amazing playground!  This was THE BEST. DAY. EVER.
Grandpa led the way down to the water, carrying the tackle box and his fishing pole as I carried mine and the worm container.  It was a beautiful day, though there was a breeze off the lake that carried with it the smell of rotting seaweed.  I wrinkled my nose, but sat down on the crumbling concrete and rocks that made up the wall area around the edge of the lake a little ways away from my grandpa.  He baited a hook for me and I was set to go.
I was not a patient child.  I was in love with the sound that the reel made when it was cast and reeled in, and I was also under the impression that the movement of the worm through the water would attract the fish thereby getting me more bites.  In about a half an hour I went through probably half of the worms that we had brought while grandpa was still on his first cast.
“Levena, you need to calm down.  I won’t be baiting anymore hooks for you.  You’ll have to do that yourself.”  I got a stern look and a bit of a sigh as my grandpa watched me.  “Just watch your fingers.”
I looked at the worms and at my empty hook with a sort of creeping dread.  I would have to pull a worm in half and then… stick it on there somehow.  I wasn’t exactly sure how grandpa did it.  There was some sort or wiggling, and looping motion involved and then the worm was on the hook like magic.  I managed to pull apart the worm and placed it gingerly on a nearby rock.  I raised the hook and proceeded to mash the worm onto the hook.  When I stopped, the worm was rather flat, but it was sticking to the hook.  I cast out and then sat, staring at the little blue and white bobber attached to the line.  I really didn’t want to bait the hook again, so I was inspired to wait for the fish to come to me.
My patience paid off, and I got a bite about ten minutes later.  I nearly dropped my fishing pole in my surprise, and was cheered on by grandpa as I slowly reeled in my fish.  It felt like it weighed at least a hundred pounds.  Surely, this was the biggest fish ever!  When the fish finally flopped up into the shallows, my grandpa grabbed the line to show to me my catch.  My fish was green, kind of tiger striped with a big spikey looking fin on its back, and was easily the size of my grandpas’ hand.  It spun on the line and I was horrified to see that the hook had gone through its eye!  That wasn’t supposed to happen; didn’t the fish know how to be caught?
“Hey now, don’t worry.”  My grandpa reassured me, working to unhook the fish without me seeing.  “Fish are tough little buggers, and this guy will be okay if he stays to the shallows.”  Letting the fish recover in the shallows, we watched it flop suddenly and then swim off like a shot into the dark water, surely cursing me in whatever language fish have.
Shaken but not deterred, I mashed another worm onto my hook and cast out.  I was more than surprised when not even five minutes later I got another bite, a strong one that had the line spooling from the reel pretty quickly.  I began the slow process of reeling it in, eyes watching the water below for my first glimpse of my fish.  Again, grandpa grabbed the line when the fish hit the shallows, pulling up a very familiar looking fish.  It was green with tiger stripes, and as the line spun, we both saw my hook had gone through the same eye.  My grandpa looked from the fish to me and back again, letting out an incredulous puff of laughter.
“Well.  Looks like this guy was bound and determined to be caught.  I have a bucket.  Why don’t we take him home and you can have him for lunch.”
I was staring in fascination at the fish, and nodded.  I was told to let the fish swim on the hook in the shallows while grandpa went to get the bucket and fill it before we put the fish in it.  We packed up after that, carrying all of our things back to the truck to head back.  I rode back with the fish in my lap, and I watched it swim around in endless circles, its green scales pretty against the red bucket.
When we got back, my grandpa left both the fish and me at the picnic table while he went inside to grab a few things.  He came back out with a board and a couple knives that he cautioned me away from, motioning for me to sit on the bench on the other side of the table from him.  I watched, fascinated, having no clue what was about to happen to the fish in the bucket.  He was pulled out, and my grandpa worked quickly with the small knife that he’d brought out to scrape the scales off the fish.  They fell down in glittering piles, and I loved how shiny they were, like tiny rainbows on the table in the sunlight.  I was too young to really understand what was happening to the fish, that it was like cutting off its skin, that it was ‘alive’.  When he was done, grandpa put the fish on the cutting board, picked up the bigger knife and quickly lopped off the fish’s head.  There was very little blood, and he sent me inside to tell my grandma to get out butter and a frying pan while he ‘deboned’ the fish.  I went off, happily oblivious to what was happening, and hungry for lunch.
When he came in in a few minutes, there were two little bits of stuff on the cutting board and no sign of the fish I had caught.  My grandma cooked it up for me with butter and mashed potatoes, and it was delicious. 


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