The idea was to have a good old-fashioned fish fry. Never mind that it’s 98° F. in the shade. Never mind that we didn’t have one fish in the freezer.
We made a list. Checked it twice.
Then someone was off to the store. A hundred dollars later, we were back with a kettle of cooking oil, a bag of Fish Fry meal, a box of flash-frozen fish fillets, a package of hush puppy mix and a bag of frozen French fries. Someone already had the paper plates.
Someone went to the shop, came back with the fish cooker and a big stainless steel fry pan and strainer basket.
We were ready to make a meal.
I remember back when I was a kid, I would go fishing with my Uncle. He fished a lot, especially when it was too hot to do anything else.
He didn’t have a freezer. He had to go and catch fish for supper.
He knew every pond in Franklin county. If the gate was locked, he knew you needed permission or you could just sneak in, catch a string of fish and sneak out. Several times, we walked down a half mile down a dirt road just to fish in Mr. Somebody’s pond.
“Mike, you gotta be quiet, so you don’t scare the fish.” he would tell me. He had me tiptoeing around the pond bank and whispering, even after I caught a fish.
Later, I realized why I had to be quiet. We were poaching fish out of Mr. Somebody’s pond.
Most likely, I could still use a bit of forgiveness on that part.
Every fish he caught was a keeper, from the smallest Bream to good-sized Bass. They all were headed to the supper table.
Sometimes, my uncle would throw a big black skillet in his jeep, and a paper bag filled with a loaf of white bread, a little corn meal, a bottle of ketchup and a can of shortening.
We were on a quest for adventure. We worked together. He’d catch the big fish. I would catch a couple of little bream.
Then he’d take the fish down to the pond’s edge. He scrapped all the scales away, cut off the head and removed the insides. Washed them in the pond water.
I gathered some wood. He built a fire.
While the fire burned down to hot ashes, he would roll the fish in the corn meal and scrape the shortening into the skillet. When the grease was hot, he cooked the fish until one side was brown, then turned it over with his knife and cooked the other side. He’d drain the fish on a paper bag, then peel the flesh off and stack it on a slice of white bread, adding a little ketchup and topping the sandwich with the second slice of bread.
We would sit by the fire and eat fish sandwiches.
Then, he’d tell me stories about how things used to be better in the good old days.
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