I never cared much for fishing. I was too impatient to stand for hours holding a rod watching a cork bob up and down in the water. I think Daddy always wanted me to love it, but soon gave up on his son being a fisherman.
The few times I tried to fish, I refused to put the still alive and squirming worm on the hook. Daddy always had to because, as I have written many times, I can’t stand anything on my hands — especially wiggling worm goo.
Although I didn’t enjoy fishing, Daddy loved it! Many of my childhood memories swirl around coolers full of fresh fish that spent their final minutes packed in ice with the others that also took the bait. Some even occasionally flipped around in the cooler frantically searching for water.
Daddy had a special table set aside for the sole purpose of cleaning the fish he caught. It was a horrible process to watch. One that I avoided at all costs. I hated the sound the knife made as it scraped across the fish’s scales sending them flying in all directions in the backyard. Once they were cleaned and prepared, most of the time they were cooked immediately.
If that wasn’t possible, Daddy would cut the tops off plastic gallon milk jugs we had saved and place the fish in them. He covered them with water and put them in the deep freeze for later consumption.
This would be a good time to tell you that I’ve never eaten fish or, for that matter, any seafood.
When Mother and Daddy decided to have a fish fry, close friends were always summoned to our house to partake in the golden fried delights. Daddy would fire up his Morrone fish cooker fueled by propane gas. Our carport was turned into a makeshift kitchen, since Mother would never allow fish to be cooked inside.
After a good dusting of cornmeal, each fish was thrown into molten hot grease, which bubbled and popped around them. The crispy, fried fish were then placed on large platters that were lined with brown grocery bags to absorb the excess grease. The casual fish fry always called for paper plates, napkins and plastic cups filled with sweet tea.
Fish after fish were consumed by our family and friends until everyone was filled to the gill. Fresh made slaw, french fries and hush puppies always accompanied them. The only thing I would eat was the hush puppies. Mother made the best. One thing I distinctly remember is ice cream was never served after eating fish. “It just isn’t done,” Daddy would say, as if something horrible would happen if it was.
The memories of my daddy and fish are happy ones — even if I didn’t enjoy the process of catching or eating them. This made him happy and I love remembering him being thrilled with every fish he caught and then whistling while he stood in the carport dressed in his blue coveralls frying them.
As I grew older, Daddy stopped asking me to go fishing because he knew my answer would be no. I would rather be drawing or painting than standing on the side of a lake holding a fishing pole for hours on end.
The other day I drew a series of fish. I thought about Daddy with every stoke I made with my colored pencils. I wish he could have seen the finished trio. In my mind, I can see his face light up with pride.
“Those look great, Mark!” he would have said. “This is my idea of fishing, Daddy,” I would have told him.
If I could have just one more day with Daddy, I would even go fishing if he wanted me to. After all, it would give us plenty of time to catch up while we waited for the fish to bite.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.