Friday, August 11, 2006

Poetry Friday: The Word is MASS

I knew it would brain kept twisting today's Poetry Friday word into a different word, and I'd get halfway through some idea and realize I had the word wrong. I kept mixing up MASS and MESS.

I took MASS communication in college.
I made a MESS of things with that guy I dated freshman year.

Ooh, I think I need a vacation.

MASS is the word. If you're up fer it, feel free to include this word in your blog post today, in whatever form sugars your donut...any definition, any creative bent. I have one offering today..."Based on a True Story!". (BTW, if you've never eaten smelt, you really should. They're like french fries, only healthier...and fishier.)

Have a good weekend, y'all!

Sunday Dinner, Springtime

You ate the bones. That was the beauty part of it. No fumbling with sharp knives to make the slit just so, no finger-scraping the innards into a worn silver bucket, no delicate filleting…no, you simply cut the heads off and threw the bodies into a white porcelain bowl of cold water and sent the heads to the hogs.

We cleaned hundreds of ‘em…thousands probably in a season, and I’d like to think a million over our lifetimes. The older men would come back with their metal buckets brimming, churning and roiling with the sleek silver bodies of that night’s dinner.

It always felt like Christmas.

The Cousins, my sisters and I would get to work at the oak table my great-grandfather had fashioned, me on a chair to see over the top. Things were different back then, it was common to give a 6-year old a knife and trust her to cut only fish and not her fingers. I was the youngest, but had already developed a reputation for being the fastest cleaner. The older kids would tease me as I reached for another handful, another, another, humming some tune or other, my rhythm steady….


Momma and The Aunts stood ready at the stoves, pans bubbling and hopping with freshly shucked peas, dandelion greens, cast iron ships of frying potatoes and onions, orchard apples and cinnamon for dessert, and pots of boiling oil. When the fish were ready, The Women would hoist the bowls to the sink, drain off the water, and dump the fish onto clean white kitchen towels to drain. Then they’d line up, one at the fish, one at the egg and milk mixture, one at the flour, again eggs and milk, and finally Grandpa’s Special Cornmeal Mix. Nimble, calloused hands passed the fish down the line, flipping into each mix, sliding into the oil. The first batch, that first whiff of oil and browned skin, hit us simultaneously, and the room sighed as the fish gradually floated all golden and crispy to the top.

When the last pot was done, and the women had finished scuttling food to the tables, there was mass hysteria. The grownups would run to sit at the head table, The Uncles always fighting over who got to sit by Grandpa. The Aunts would shush them with amusement in their tired voices and throw their aprons on Grandma’s old cedar chest. Each table, even The Kid Table, groaned under platters and bowls of food. The family had learned over the years not to be stingy when it came to family dinners.

There was loud raucous chatter until Grandpa cleared his throat and began, “Let us pray….” Then, unsettling silence. We never got used to being silent, any one of us. It was the noise that made our family what it was.


All hands reached for fish, and those with too-short arms made do for the moment with potatoes and vegetables, Aunt Ruth’s biscuits and tall glasses of icebox-cold milk. Us kids were taught to wait, politely, until everyone’s plate had food, and then we’d dig in, heads bent down, silverware scraping the fading china, napkins dropped and replaced, the smack-smack of lips and food and holding the corners of your smiling mouth so the food wouldn’t fall out.

Then it would start.

Someone would sniff the air. Usually Grandpa.

“What’s that smell?”, he’d say.

We’d all sniff the air, then our plates, then the bodies of whoever was next to us, grinning like it was the first time, the obvious punchline filling the meal like another course, our stomachs rumbling the answer, the chorus of voices at the gate, ready to stampede.

The room would inhale.

The Family Voice would explode.

“I smelled smelt!”

We’d end up in messy giggles, choking slightly, our mouths open with shaking laughter and watery eyes. The air would vibrate and settle, and we’d stab another smelt, more dinner, more smacking of lips, crunching morsels of noisy quiet.

“Smelled smelt!” It was the chorus my parents knew, my family knew, the backbone of our humour and the diagram of our history.

It was the same every time.

It was the best part of growing up.


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