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My dad loved to go fishing. We’d get home from church on Sunday, have dinner (farm dinner—midday), followed by a little nap for him and mother. Then, it was time to fish. We lived in the Rocky Mountains where there were several abundant trout streams within a short drive, and he’d take his hip-boots (which were used for irrigating the other six days of the week) and his pole and reel, and his flies, and sometimes worms, and go off to find his bliss. We ate rainbow trout for breakfast every Monday morning in the summers.
He loved fishing. Once, when he was out in the alfalfa fields, changing out the canvas dams that spread the irrigation water from the ditch across the fields, a trout flopped out onto the hayfield, so he scooped it up and stuck it in his pocket, and later brought it into the kitchen for my mom to cook! He thought it was pretty hilarious that, even when he was working, he could manage to catch a fish!
But, really, it was his relaxation, and his chance to just do something calm that brought him pleasure. He didn’t tie his own flies, and often, we kids were the ones who’d dig up some worms for him. He just enjoyed standing there in the woods, with the water gurgling past him, as he calmly experienced an in-the-moment event that had no great ramifications. It wasn’t going to be life or death, bankruptcy, or financial ruin if he didn’t get his quota of trout that day. So much of the rest of his life’s work on our farm included potential for those serious results.
He taught my older sister how to fish, and he’d willingly take any kid along with him on those Sunday afternoon outings to the creek or river. I went once. That’s all it took for me! No, seriously…bring me your dead fish, and I’ll happily make you dinner. Just don’t make me catch it! First, it was a spectacularly boring occupation. Of course, I was probably about eight or nine years old, and a rather active person. Standing quietly in or near a stream while you waited patiently for an unseen creature to be attracted to that little bit of food, then reeling it in for the catch was not really a big skill of mine. Then…I discovered that after you haul in the writhing fish, you have to kill it! It doesn’t just die when you take from the water. You have to smack its head on a rock! Well, no thanks. I don’t mind taking out the guts and chopping off the dead heads…but I don’t know why I couldn’t kill it. And I certainly had no hesitation in savoring their tasty meat the next morning.
Years later, I was married with five kids and we got to live in Southern California just a few blocks from the beach. (Hurray for my husband’s job!) I’d ride my bike down the to pier early in the morning for the exercise, and just to enjoy the ocean. On the pier were a little group of grandfathers whose purpose was to catch the evening meal each day. They would drop their lines off the pier into the ocean and sit there on a camp stool and spend a few hours filling up the plastic bucket that was sitting next to their tackle box. Some were Filipino grandpas, some were Spanish-speaking abuelos, but each of them was tasked with the job of coming home with that bucket filled up. A few miles away, on a different pier, there were some fancy restaurants that also featured delicious fish dinners, and all you had to do was pay them the big bucks. These fellows at the pier just put in the time and did the work and fed their families.
That’s when I realized my dad, in trying to show me how to fish, had actually taught me about an important concept: Free Food for Poor People. We ate tasty rainbow trout every week, as much as we wanted, for the price of his fishing license…maybe five dollars back then. After high school, I earned money for college by working in a resort town near Yellowstone Park at a nice restaurant, and I served many tourists rainbow trout for which they paid some serious money.
A few years later, my husband’s job transferred us to the East Coast on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I went to some party/dinner for his work and discovered the amazing culinary delight of Maryland blue crab cakes! Well, I certainly wanted to savor that food again, so I went to the grocery store to buy some crab meat. Wow. That little pint of tastiness cost far more than I was willing to pay. I mean, it was seriously expensive! So, I asked around and discovered that for $10 I could buy a wire crab trap and some stinky fish for bait and catch all the blue crab I could handle. So, I did!
That’s how I found out why that pint of crab meat was priced so high. Yes, Maryland blue crab is simply delicious eaten right out of the steamer and covered with Old Bay seasoning, or turned into crab cakes, or made into soup or stew. But to get that amazing meat, one must do an amazing amount of work. You’re not paying for the crab—you’re paying for the labor of getting the meat out of the crab! And you have to deal with those mean little critters. There’s a very good reason why a cranky nasty human is referred to as “crabby.” At least the people don’t grab your fingers with their sharp pincers.
So, all summer, I crabbed in the little creek behind our house. I learned how to separate the Jimmies from the Sooks. I learned how to measure their shells and toss back those that needed to grow a little. I steamed and picked and tucked away pints and pints of crab meat in my freezer. Then, all winter, we ate crab cakes, and stew and soups, and I was very pleased with myself for figuring out yet another source of Free Food for Poor People.
My dad would have been so proud!Published in