You know how it is: You see something that reminds you of an event that happened years ago, and that memory triggers another that has at least a minuscule amount of relevance to what set you off on a daydreaming mission to begin with?
Well, maybe it’s an age thing. It happens to me all the time, possibly because I have so much useless information stored in my head.
For instance, Pat and I were recently dining at a nearby upscale restaurant (the one with the rocking chairs out front and shelves stacked with stuff that only someone of a certain age will recognize). While patiently waiting for orders of chicken and dumplings and trying to exercise self-control to keep from digging into the plate of biscuits, I noticed a mechanical food grinder on the shelf above our table.
We used to have one of those when I was a kid, I thought. What did we use it for?
I remember my mom putting beef through it to make hamburger. She’d stuff a small piece of meat in the top, push down firmly and turn the handle to engage the grinder, then catch the curls of shredded beef in a bowl.
But that’s not where my mind settled. Rather, it took a turn down a darker memory path, a shadowy track that involved dark nights, swift water and illegal activity. It’s hard to imagine of an upstanding citizen such as I, but I think the statute of limitations has expired, so I feel at ease in confessing my transgression.
Behind our house in upstate South Carolina ran a decent-sized creek where I fished, learned to swim and determined, based on my less-than-stellar experience with dam building, that civil engineer was not a career choice.
Farther down the creek, way below the swimming hole, the stream became shallower as it meandered through darker woods, bogs and cutback banks. In places, the creek bed was mostly sand and pebbles, and that’s where the spring suckers came up from the river to lay eggs. And that’s where we sat on the bank, often at night, and shot them.
Gasp! I know, it’s unthinkable. But these were big fish, three- and four-pounders, often in groups of nine or ten, heads into the current, driven by the primal urge to spawn. It was the South Carolina equivalent of a salmon run.
A well-placed shot from a .410 shotgun would dispatch three or four fish. Sometimes the concussion would stun them, and if I jumped into the cold water quickly enough I could toss a half-dozen onto the bank before they recovered.
I would sometimes head home with a large stringer of big fish to clean. And my mom would cook them. And that’s where the food grinder came in. Suckers are so bony they are virtually inedible. Mom tried countless ways to make them palatable — baked in butcher paper, fileted and fried, and broiled.
Try though she might, nothing made suckers even remotely tasty. But we had a rule: you kill it, you eat it (exceptions included snakes, rats and other vermin).
Finally, Mom turned to the food grinder, assuming that pulverizing the flesh would also crush the bones. She added spices and cracker crumbs and fried up a batch of sucker croquettes.
I would like to tell you that no salmon ever tasted better. That would be a lie. It was like eating sand spurs dipped in fish bait. We did resort, however, to an ancient method of “eating” fish that are nearly inedible — we used them to fertilize our corn patch.
The Silver Queen sweet corn was delicious.