Sunday, March 8, 2009


March 7, 2009 fry pan

When the wind comes whispering through the branches of the scrub oak trees in our front yard; when the leaves are molting from their winter nubs into fresh baby-green see-through ruffles, I can hear the streams of my childhood. Though there is no water here, I can hear them. We are warm in our sweatshirts, our wet shoes are nearly dry and we are huddled near the fire, the fresh gathered wood cracking against the heat, releasing a spew of sparks that rise into the starry sky. Pine smoke sifts into tall evergreens. The smells of the mountains change when the sun sets. Wet and earthy aromas of a warm sunny day have drawn the shades and bedded down for the night and we are left with fresh and crisp and clear, cold in our nostrils. We speak in quieter tones, an instinctive reverence overcoming all living things. There is a ring of strategically placed flat faced rocks in the coals of the fire, off to the side where Mom has shifted pieces of charcoal, where the flame has inverted into blackened chunks of heat which blush like embarrassed schoolgirls when she blows on them. Mom’s old black cast iron fry pan sits on top of the stones, appearing unaffected by the heat, looking rather lifeless, until she flings a fork full of Crisco into it. Then it screams and screeches as the white glob shrinks and glides across the hot thick metal. Beside her, on a large platter laid out like soldiers, is our catch of the day. Fin against fin, clean and headless and shimmering in the moonlight. She shakes a generous portion of salt and pepper on their rainbow skin, sprinkles a little flour if she has some, and lifts each one by the tail, gently sliding them into the hot oil like tired housewives lay themselves into a hot bathtub after the kids are in bed. They sizzle and curl, turning brown on the outside and pink on the inner. Their slivery spines pull away from the layers of meat when they are cooked just right. We stand in a line behind her as she bends over the fire, her hot pad wrapped around the handle of the fry pan. She shakes the skillet, turns the fish one more time, then edges the tines of her fork under the backbone to see if the flesh flakes off easily. “Here you go, Doll,” she’ll say as she lays one on my plate. I scurry back to my canvas folding chair, the one that smells like rubber and mildew and pine needles. I push my knobby little girl knees together and make a little table for my plate. Tiny bite by tiny bite I pull the delicacy from the skeleton, counting the ribs, knowing that if one is missing I’d better chew carefully. I do not need a fork. I can do it bare handed, once the fish has cooled a little. You can feel the bones better that way. It makes my mouth water to think of it.
This is the bright red cherry on top of a super banana split kind of day. A day that starts as a dark chilly Idaho morning, slipping out of my sleeping bag and following my mother, tiptoeing, down to the stream; fishing pole in hand, a square cork container with mulch and earthworms, a Big Hunk and Chick-O-Stix in my left coat pocket and my old tenny-runners on my feet. My mom stands beside me in the stream and we speak beautiful silence to each other as the sun rises over the shimmering ripples of the Snake River. There is a tug on my line, and a tug on hers, and we know that with the rising sun there is hunger below the waters. All day long, that blessed timeless kind of day, we gave ourselves to the wild.
Here, beside the fire, tummy full and body happy-tired, I take my plate to the stream and wash it off. This is the gift of a day. I am warm, and I am loved, and I am safe, and I am fed. There is no sweeter memory. Truly, no sweeter memory.

The Snake River and the Tetons

After a good day....Ann Marie, Libby, me and George in Aunt Edna's kitchen

1 comment:

  1. um.... fabulous! You need to put these all together in a book. Just for fun, the other day I went to random generator. My word was "virus." Well, I did not like that choice at all, or at least didn't know what to do with the word. I just kept asking for another luck, I hated them all. You have a gift, my dear.