Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fish Fry

It's Sunday evening and I'm remembering once again those Sunday evenings of long ago. I want to take you back to the summer of 1957. I was nine years old at the time. I can remember going to bed on Saturday night, right after my dad told me we were going fishing in the morning. The events that follow could have been from any one of many occasions, because my dad and I fished a great deal when I was a boy.

I sometimes wished he hadn't told me what was in store because after hearing the news, I had a terrible time getting to sleep. The excitement was rushing through my body like electricity. But I finally drifted off.

What seemed like only a moment later I awoke to the unmistakable smell of hickory smoked bacon. If you're not aware of this, let me explain it. The smell of bacon can find its way from the kitchen, all the way down the hall, and into the nose of a nine-year old. Unlike light rays, the aroma of bacon can turn corners.

It was still dark outside as I got dressed and scurried down the hall toward the kitchen. I can still see the vision of my dad as I rounded the corner. He was standing there with his coffee cup in one hand, and wearing khaki pants and a white t-shirt. There was a Camel cigarette sitting in the ashtray next to the stove, and he was tending the bacon in the skillet as it sizzled.

On a "fishing morning" he would let me have a little coffee with sugar and milk in it, and I thought that was great. Just us two men of the house drinking our coffee (from a real percolator!) and talking about how many fish we hunter-gatherers were going to bring home that day. He would always ask me to look outside and see which way the wind was blowing.

My dad was meteorologist during World War II with the Flying Tigers. Being a meteorologist, he had a thing about weather, obviously. And he told me that fishing success was directly related to weather. He said, "If the wind's in the east, the fish bite the least. If the wind's in the west, the fish bite the best. But if the wind's in the north, don't venture forth. And when the wind's in the south, why, it blows your bait right in the fish's mouth." Over the years that we fished together, that theory proved true on more than one occasion.

After we ate breakfast he made us a couple of sandwiches, wrapped them with waxed paper (we didn't have sandwich bags back then. I missed an opportunity to invent those.) We started loading our gear into the tan Ford pickup. My dad carried the heavy stuff from the garage, and I carried a few rods. (I was only nine, okay?) In a few moments we were off and heading to Allin's Bait Shop in downtown Independence.

The visit to Allin's never varied. There was a bell beside the front door. My dad punched it a couple times to wake Jerry Allin up. A few moments later a sleepy-eyed proprietor opened the door to let us in. Remember, it's still dark outside.

Now, if you've never been inside a live bait and tackle store, there's something I should explain. There are smells in there, and they hit you as soon as you enter. The large tanks holding the minnows act like humidifiers and fill the air with a heaviness that smells a bit like fish. Since Jerry's son was a taxidermist, there were always some dead creatures in the other room that were exuding their own aroma. It all got mixed together and produced an ambiance that only guys would enjoy. And that's probably more than you wanted to know about that.

Aside from from tackle box re-stocking items like split-shot, hooks, and bobbers, my dad usually got two dozen minnows and a can of red wigglers (worms). He was a live-bait fisherman. I preferred the plastic worms so I could catch bass.

I could drag this story out a lot longer, and there were many occasions that would provide a story in themselves, but I'll condense it and say that we always came home with fish. My dad was a great fisherman, and I learned a lot from him.

So, on Sunday evening, the Broadway family gathered around the table to eat the catch of the day. There were always bluegill (big ones, which my dad caught) a few crappie (usually an accident), and maybe a small bass or two (which I generally caught).

Next to the fish platter you could find another big platter of fried potatoes. There was a big bowl filled with salad and a bottle of Good Season's (make it yourself in the jar) salad dressing. I wonder if that brand is still around. And sweet iced tea. My parents were from Tennessee, and I don't think you can get unsweetened tea down there unless you special order it.

I didn't have any trouble at all going to sleep Sunday night.


Bobbie Dawn said...

I love fish fries. at my cousin's wedding reception last year we had a massive fry with freshly caught trout and about 80 people. The guy doing the frying was this french-Canadian man who had real skill - and he built the fire pit and brought his own oil pails and everything to do it! It was the best fish ever!

Blogger said...

Are you paying more than $5 per pack of cigs? I'm buying my cigarettes over at Duty Free Depot and this saves me over 50%.