My two older grandchildren, Taylor and CJ came to spend a couple days with us at the farm, now that school is out for the summer. I expected to enjoy our time together as I always do, but it turned out to be better than I expected as I strolled down memory lane.
One of the things they like to do when they visit is to fish in our farm pond. They get this from my husband Jeff’s side of their family genes. All were great fishermen and women I might add. His paternal grandparent, Papaw Mitchell and his great uncle Bob even “noodled” catching fish by hand in White Oak Creek, before anyone knew what it meant, or had TV shows about it.
Our three children all grown up!!! Taylor and CJ on the bottom row.
When my children were little, my husband and I both enjoyed fishing with them. On a Sunday afternoon, a great family memory comes to mind when Jeff’s dad Guy, and Jeff and I would take the 3 kids and go fish.
Jeff’s mom didn’t really care to fish, so she would stay home and start preparations for our traditional fish fry upon our return. I see now that she had great confidence in us catching enough fish for the traditional fish fry. The power of positive thinking back then still holds true today. We never disappointed her.
The Brannon fishing pond where we had the privilege to fish was overstocked to say the least. With every cast, something took your hook. Often times, I didn’t get much fishing done as I was helping the little ones bate their hooks, untangling their lines or taking their catch off. In time, they eventually learn to do it themselves and then I could get some fishing done.
Papaw shows them how to cast their line.
And so it was just this morning with the grand kids: A time to remember: a stroll down memory lane. They both tried fishing the evening before with night-crawlers, but had no luck; only a blue gill or two. I so wanted them to have the experience of “reeling a big one in” so I said, “Why don’t we set the minnow trap? We always caught fish on minnows,” I thought back. “Yes, “Jeff added, “It is all about the “presentation,” meaning give them something to make them bite.
With excitement, they fetched the minnow trap from the barn, a piece of bread from the breadbox then took off, the two of them, on the golf cart to set the trap in the pool of water in the crossing. Bingo. Two hours later, they proudly brought home a bucket of minnows for the next morning’s fish. Papaw helped them put the minnow bucket in the water and secured it to the dock for the next day though he had to work.
“Time to get up, it’s almost daylight,” I urged them at 6 A.M. Their sleepy heads thought at first I was joking. NOT. But they got up quickly.
At the pond it there was a cool breeze blowing and nature at its finest. “First, we have to put on a bigger hook, this tiny one is fine for bluegills, but it will bend from the weight of the big fish we are going to catch this morning,” I encouraged them with positive thinking. Next, I instructed them on how to tie the hook properly, though I struggled without my reading glasses. “Thread, wrap, wrap, wrap, then knot, pull and then do it again,” I instructed. Helping me made them pay more attention, by being my eyes as I struggled to see the clear fishing line while tying the knot in the morning sun. Then it was a lesson in how to stick your hand in the minnow bucket and pull out a minnow in your hand with just his mouth showing so that you can hook both his lips. Then both headed to the end of the dock to get started.
While we fish, the Corgyns wait patiently for their next ride.
While I was changing out my hook, the two of them cast their line out very nicely into the serene water. Suddenly, CJ calls out, “Taylor’s got one.” I looked over and sure enough it was bending her pole nicely. “Keep the pole up,” I called to her as I threw my pole down to go help her as I knew the pain of letting the big one get away. It flopped in the water. She had a fight on her hand. The excitement was ON!
Our first fish was caught by Taylor, twelve years old, right away. It was a big crappie. (Pronounced Croppie) I sent the photo to her Papaw and mother at 6:41 AM.
Then the action began again, when CJ, eleven years, pulled in another. Then Taylor again, and then CJ and I hadn’t even finished tying my big hook on or wetting my line yet. The action, I must admit, was so exciting. CJ exclaimed, Grandma, “I have caught more fish in the last half hour than I have caught all my life fishing in this pond.”
“Like Papaw says, it’s all in the presentation!”
Looky, Looky! Bass & Crappie
“We had a good run,” and I finally did get to catch one big crappie then decided, “We have more than enough fish to clean and to satisfactorily supply us for a decent fish fry,” I told them. “What is a fish fry,” CJ asked. And with that, I was obliged to tell him.
“It is one of the great memories I hold dear of your great grandparents, I said with a smile. And I told them of the story I started at the beginning of this story. How we would bring two big stringers full of bass, crappie and bluegill back to my in-laws and how the smell of homemade macaroni and cheese permeated the house upon our return.
Jeff and Papaw Mitchell (Guy) would start cleaning the fish down behind the house. I would fillet some of the meat from the carcass. Guy would look at me like I was nuts. “Guy, I don’t want one of my little kids to eat a bone and get choked.” He nodded knowing he couldn’t win this argument.
After the fish were cleaned and soaking in salt water, Mamaw Mitchell, Gerry, my mother-in-law placed the traditional fish fry pan, an oversize, cast-iron skillet, which was once her mother-in-law’s fish frying skillet, on the burner. Next she added some Crisco and while it was heating, she began rolling the fish in whipped eggs with a dash of milk and next in flour seasoned with only salt and pepper, placing each piece on a big platter until the grease was just the right temperature then she started transferring them to the skillet. By now, we all had worked up a huge appetite and could hardly wait. (So in the meantime, Guy would insist that I try his homemade dandelion, blackberry, strawberry, elderberry or peach wine, whichever he had made that year. Wow. And that is all I will say about that!)
Finally we sat down to one of the best meals and memories one could have. The perfectly, golden brown fish, the homemade, oven baked macaroni and cheese with cracker crumbs on top, giant, meaty lima beans the size of quarters, Silver Queen corn from her deep freeze that she put up every year and taught us newlyweds how to do the same. Oh and here was the best, while we were fishing, she also made her famous Refrigerator Yeast Crescent Rolls. We sat at her round kitchen table, with oval, platter sized, restaurant plates of good food, a little homemade wine. All was well with the world!
The competition however, as to who could hold the fish tail and strip the whole skeleton out of the fish leaving the flakey white boneless meat on one’s plate. Of course my father-in law, being very experienced won. We ate until we were stuffed.
So you can imagine, how on this morning, while, the grandchildren where pulling in the fish, all these fine memories were running through my mind. I smiled to the heavens, hoping that I too would be giving them a sweet memory that they would remember for a life time.
I was glad I stuck to my guns and got up extra early while it was cool. And since I also, showed them how to clean and fillet the fish we caught, I am sure they will remember it! (Sorry Guy, I filleted all of them.) By the end of the cleaning process, they were both very good at scaling the fish, the temperature had gotten very hot and we were sweating. They both went to take showers to rid them of the fish smell.
Sadly, they couldn’t stay for the fish fry that evening as they had other plans and we hadn’t planned the fish fry because we didn’t know we were going to catch enough fish to fry but I had inkling. But I had to have a fish fry regardless
“We are going to have a fish fry,” I told Jeff when I sent him the pictures. So I pulled out a medium Wagner, cast-iron skillet. It wasn’t the gigantic-one his mother used through the years, though we have that skillet somewhere in our house. I let my memory serve me as I rolled the fish in the egg mixture and flour. The fish turned out beautiful, just like my mother-in-law taught me. I was proud of me too.
We sat down, just the two of us , Jeff and I, at that same round table we inherited,
to a meal similar to the one we had thirty years ago. I didn’t make home-made mac & cheese, I used Bob Evans brand and frozen mixed vegetables. But would you believe, we planted Silver Queen and Lima beans already in our garden prior to today. All the same we enjoyed our little mini fish fry just as much strolling down memory lane.
We miss our loved ones and the memories we made together. But we are thankful that we can pull up a snapshot-memory of good times.
So here’s the thing: We are all making memories each and every day. We just don’t know which memory each of us is storing in our memory bank like our fish fry as a good, great or fantastic day. Each day is our gift, our present. Try to fill it with “moments” that may seem like ordinary, even survival like moments, because those might be the best ones yet. You’ll be glad you did. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. Now I am going to resurrect Gerry Mitchell’s Refrigerator Rolls recipe as I know we just resurrected the traditional fish fries!