I was born and raised in upstate New York. Summers were spent at our cottage on Devil’s Lake in Ontario. As kids, my bothers, sister and I spent most of our time catching greenies (leopard frogs) for bait. We had our own row boat and we were proud as punch the bluegills we caught became the staple of our meals. My parents caught headier stuff: bass the size of my dog, 3 ft walleyes. I remember the time Mom hooked something so big even Dad couldn’t help her bring it up. It dragged our anchored boat around so long he finally cut the line. Imagine what it could have been.
As the years passed I found myself spending more time curled up with a good book than in the boat with my siblings. I read Gone With The Wind every summer. I devoured Welty, Faulkner, Lee. By the time I became an adult I was irrevocably in love with all things Southern.
It just so happened my husband and I eventually moved our family to Virginia and I settled in for a lifetime of learning all the mysterious, romantic ways of the South. I couldn’t wait to experience slow turning ceiling fans on huge white porches, Mint Juleps, straw hats, BBQs, fish fries, shady magnolias, hot, white sand beneath my feet. (In those precious moments of relaxation between working a full time job and raising three kids, of course.) Somewhere inside this hardworking northern wife and mother beat the heart of a soft-spoken southern belle. (Those who know me, please do not snort.)
My hubby had other plans for our leisure time. Fishing! Fine with me. That fit perfectly into my fish fry plan. And, after all, we did live on the Chesapeake Bay. We could catch fish here much bigger than those my parents caught in Canada.
We bought an 18 foot, ten- year-old tri-hull boat. I found recipes for hush puppies and coleslaw. Then we went to Sears, to the sporting department, and placed our inexperienced-with-all-things-southern selves in the hands of a very knowledgeable salesman. He sold us two fiberglass rods designed for 60 – 80 lb line. Mine was candy apple red. They were as big around as small trees. The line was as thick as clothes line. We bought industrial strength two speed Penn reels that cost more than our boat. All things our trusted salesman assured us we needed to catch the “big ones”.
To complete our purchase, we bought a dozen or so lures that looked like they belonged on the Muppet show, treble hooks you could hang hams from and assorted weights larger than those on our diving belts. Add to that several knives and pliers, plastic bait, nets, rigs and a can of powder that would stain the waters yellow in case we fell overboard reeling in a “big one”. We were ready to fish on the Chesapeake Bay.
Now our idea of fishing was to sit in a boat on water with our bait dangling just off the bottom, and wait for something huge to bite. Yuh Huh. We did just that. The poles and assorted accoutrements were so heavy I asked my hubby to keep that can of powder handy. If the pole went down due to it’s shear weigh, I was following it. After all, I was (barely) holding almost a month’s mortgage in equipment. We caught and threw away several 1 – 2 lb silvery fish that made grunting noises, some stonefish that didn’t look edible and fish with spots. We had no idea what they were, but they were not “big ones”. In fact, most of the fish were smaller than our reels. One trip out was all it took to realize we had been hooked by a Sears salesman.
Eventually we made friends with folks who fish these waters. Friendly people who did not mind showing us the ropes, and who refrained from laughing their butts off at us. We learned we could catch yummy spot and croaker just fine with lightweight rods and blood worms or squid. And we did have those fish fries.
I now own one of those porches with several slow-turning ceiling fans, shaded by the required magnolia tree. Although I’ve never had a Mint Julep, I’ve burned my feet many times on that hot sand. I’ve recently posted a Facebook photo of myself in a huuuuge red straw hat. What fun! And I’ve learned to make southern pulled pork BBQ to die for. But neither of us has yet hooked the “big one”. Those poles and reels are hanging like ornamentation from the ceiling of our tool shed. The lures and tackle have rusted into a tangled lump of faded plastic and metal that might, in some circles, be considered folk art.
And I have learned over time I will never be considered a Southern Lady. I will always be simply a “Come Here.” But that’s okay, life is good.