Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I Caught Crabs

Every teacher had a side hustle, whether it was selling real estate, subbing or peddling cosmetics. They also had all sorts of ways to save money throughout the year.  My parents were no different. They preserved and canned food, bought stuff at yard sales and all sorts of other things that make people think that we grew up in the 1930s or in some Little House on the Prairie frontier instead of the 'burbs like everyone else when I talk about my childhood.

Actually, with their vegetable gardens, second-hand buying, reliance on DIY home maintenance and yardwork (DIY meaning me and my sister), and love of the homemade over the mass-produced, you might stretch things a bit and call my parents early hipsters.

My sister and I just thought they were cheap.

My dad helped stretch the food budget by providing us with fish and crabs from the Manatee River, which was a short walk down from our house.

That makes it sound a lot more dramatic than it really was, like dad was some Deadliest Catch guy out there braving the elements every weekend to put food on the table for his family. Basically, he liked to fish, and he liked eating fish, so it all worked out.

We'd go out with him fairly regularly. Dad had a one-man boat that would fit him and one kid. Early in the morning we'd go out and catch trout or jack, which were awesome. A five-pound jack will put up enough fight that you feel like Ernest Hemingway reeling in a marlin, especially if you're a kid. People say you can't eat them, but people are stupid. Fried up they tasted just fine. Of course, I would probably eat a shoe or a bar of soap if you fried it up, so maybe you shouldn't trust my tastes.

The author in middle school. Ladies, I'm wearing those shorts right now.

Dad also had about 6 crab traps that he'd check once a week or so. You'd pull up the trap while barnacles squirted water on you, bring it on to the boat and take the angry crabs out with a pair of tongs. Dad usually handled the crab wrangling part. After that I'd have to clean the guts out of the crabs on the front yard with a hose, then bring all the fish and crab guts down to the river for disposal. I also remember having to carry the car battery from the boat up to the house, which  weighed like a thousand pounds when you're 13. You'd think that doing that every weekend would give me arms of iron, sort of like Conan turning that big wheel every day, but I never saw any results.

Before he made the traps, and before we had regular access to the river, Dad went poor people crabbing, which is pretty awesome in its simplicity. You tie a chicken wing to a string, then throw it out in the water and wait for a scavenging crab to bite it. Then you reel him in. I'm hoping that knowing this sort of stuff will help me after the apocalypse hits.

I was a shitty kid. I was constantly in trouble with one or both of my parents or school, which would lead to trouble with my parents. I was once grounded for an entire school year due to failing Spanish each quarter. That sort of stuff was pretty much forgotten when I was out on the river.

It's not like Dad was imparting big life lessons on me or giving me advice while we were out there, it was more like putting our fights and disagreements on pause for a couple hours. Occasionally he'd say something along the lines of "You know you're messing up," or, "You know you need to apologize to your mother" or whatever, but it was a nice oasis in my life of constant trouble, all of which, admittedly, I brought on myself.

After a while my sister and I got sick of crabs. We had blue crabs regularly - made into crab cakes, boiled, or made into a crab boil when my dad was experimenting with Cajun seasoning. Why couldn't we be like normal people and go to McDonald's instead? Why did we always have to eat crabs or fish?

Now of course, I'd kill for some blue crabs (that I don't have to prepare or clean or anything, of course), and haven't even considered going to McDonald's in forever. I can't say I miss the feeling of wondering the next time my laziness or one of my lies was going to get me in trouble, though. I manage to go fishing with my dad once or twice a year, and, like men, we don't really talk about anything important, just sort of sit there next to each other and let the time pass while we catch fish. It's still nice.

Man, do I wish someone would bring me some crabs.

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