Oaks of Righteousness

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3

I draw trees, or perhaps it is rather that trees draw me.  The personalities of oak trees in particular capture my attention, and I love to observe (that’s another of my favorite “O” words), study, and sketch them whenever I can. There are so many varieties and shapes of oaks, but they all speak to me of stability, strength, and perseverance. When I sit sketching or simply studying an oak, I see the ways it has stood firm through assaults of weather, disease, loss of limbs, and insidious attacks by insects, yet still it stands with branches lifted skyward- a display of God’s splendor visible in his creation. 

Our land is wooded, with many trees of various species, but when we moved here 34 years ago, there were no oaks. Our first fall here, we went hiking with our sons, then one and two years old. When we came home, their pockets were bulging with acorns, and, after the boys had played with them for a while, I tossed the acorns into our unmown field area. Apparently the deer and mice missed one acorn.

That acorn, so little it easily fit in my toddler’s hand, has grown into an oak tree that towers far taller than that boy, now a man of over six feet. My sons and the oak are now in their thirties, well-rooted, strong, and thriving. The oak lifts its upper limbs higher than our house, providing perches for finches, woodpeckers, warblers, orioles, robins, hawks, and more, and it grows its lower limbs downward to provide shelter for small creatures and once even a newborn fawn in the haven of its tangled and spreading branches.

I wasn’t familiar with Isaiah’s words about oaks of righteousness displaying God’s splendor until I was writing this piece, but I will always think of that when I sketch them in the future. And now I wonder what maples, ashes, cedars, dogwoods, and other trees are saying. I will be observing them closely to see what words of wisdom they have for me!

Lower limbs of the oak that grew up with my sons
Bedford Oak– over 500 years old
Holy Cross Monastery Oak- over 300 years old
Oak I sketched in the rain yesterday, hence the ink smudges
Sketching the Angel Oak in South Carolina with two of my grandchildren

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
                                  Isaiah 61:1-3

April A to Z April Blogging O

Now

Now

The past is but a memory
that drips through my fingers
like oil when I try to hold it,
leaving no substance
but a greasy residue
that is hard to wash off.

The future is a dream
yet to be realized.
I cannot grasp it either,
anymore than I can
the morning mist that rises
in today’s sun and vanishes.

Now is all I truly have,
and yet I have it
not so much as it has me.
I cannot hold it here,
as it slides from future dream
through this moment and
into past as memory.

So how shall I now live?
I will look into this present moment
and search for what it holds
for me of life, of hope,
of a reality that exists behind the past,
beyond the future, and
solidly beneath this Now.
I shall Be and enter into life.

April A to Z April Blogging N

Mammalian Meat Allergy and Margin

“Maybe it’s time to redefine 100%.”

My friend Sally said that in the fall of 2010 when I told her I was back to normal after my concussion nine months earlier, but that as soon as I did too much I would completely crash. No warning signs of increasing fatigue or feeling like I was a bit stressed and should take a break. I would go in a matter of minutes from 100% to physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and unable to get words out coherently. It was frustrating, as I was eager to resume normal life with my usual activities and responsibilities after months of recovery.

And then Sally suggested rethinking my whole way of approaching life. That wasn’t what I had had in mind; I was of the mindset that pushing myself would help me get better, like exercising a muscle to strengthen it. That clearly wasn’t working, though, and eleven years later, it still isn’t the best approach for me. Oh, there are times I can and do push myself when there’s a need, such as with family emergencies, but I found that when I pushed myself, I needed to take little breaks whenever I could and then a longer downtime once the situation was resolved. I learned to schedule margin into my days and weeks—unscheduled time that could be a buffer when there were extenuating circumstances and that would provide a healthy rhythm of rest and work for ordinary times.

Redefining 100% by adding margin led to a different way of living, and I found I loved it!  Previously I had occupied my time with “useful” work of some sort. After my discussion with Sally, instead of packing my schedule with good and useful activities, I became more thoughtful about what I committed to and started scheduling a weekly “Quiet Day,” when I would journal, read, sketch, and sometimes hike. After some adjustment I ended up being grateful for the concussion as an odd sort of gift and was glad for the way it had changed my life.

Then last summer I was diagnosed Mammalian Meat Allergy or Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS). I had wondered for several years why I’d sometimes wake up with hives, or why I’d frequently be inexplicably nauseous or dizzy. After a few anaphylactic reactions, I went to the doctor and tested positive for AGS, which is a tick-induced allergy to galactose-ά-1,3-galactose, a sugar found in all mammals except humans and some primates (so I suppose I could eat monkey meat-ick!). At first I was mostly relieved to know what was causing my symptoms, and since I prefer poultry and fish anyway, I figured it would be easy to manage this allergy by simply avoiding beef, lamb, and pork. Wrong!

I was amazed at how many medications, supplements, soaps, and other products contain substances made from mammalian sources. Even worse, it turns out many people with AGS react strongly to cross-contamination (think my grandmother’s wonderful cast iron frying pans that once had been used for hamburgers) and to meat cooking fumes (uh oh, the neighbor’s BBQ), and I seem to be in that category.

Suddenly my life has become significantly more constricted. I carry an Epi-pen and Benadryl wherever I go, even for a walk, in case someone is grilling burgers. Eating out isn’t an option, and I’ve mostly been home for fear of reacting to someone’s perfume (apparently some perfumes either contain a mammalian substance or cross-react somehow). Stephen has taken over the grocery shopping and other errands, at least until my system stabilizes and becomes less reactive. It’s been hard and frightening.

In the past few days, though, I’ve realized that while there are challenges, I’m already experiencing some gifts of this diagnosis. Because I’m not running errands or going many places, I have much more margin. This has given me the time and mental focus to write regularly, something I had wanted to do for a long time, and that I hope to continue after this April A to Z blogging challenge is past. I’m painting more, and I’m writing more letters (yes, even snail mail letters and cards). I’m reading a great variety of books and significantly more in the Bible. I’m exercising my brain with chess lessons and studying Spanish and loving it. I’m more at ease and better able to relax and enjoy tea with Stephen before work and when he breaks for lunch.

I still can’t quite say that I am grateful for this Mammal Meat Allergy, but, as with the concussion, I am confident that God will use it for good in my life. I’m thankful for the margin it has given me, and I’m looking forward to see how I will grow in this gift of time.

April A to Z April Blogging M

This cow is safe; I won’t be eating her!

Lawn Lunch

Dandelion, ground ivy, sweet violets, garlic mustard, wild garlic, broadleaf plantain, purple dead nettle…I just harvested some delicious additions to my lunch salad from my lawn. Those who value perfectly smooth, green lawns might look askance at our lawn, but I’ll bet they can’t eat their lawn. No chemical treatments to kill off weeds here; those weeds are a salad garden I don’t have to tend! What could be better than an organic garden that grows itself despite my neglect?

Most of these “weeds” are high in nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, & K, as well as calcium and other minerals, and some of them also have medicinal qualities. As this is early in the season and the plants are small, today’s salad was partly lettuce, radishes, and blueberries, with a just handful or two of my lawn additions. Even that small amount, though, was enough to add a range of flavors that made for an especially delicious lunch.

Some of these and other plants in my lawn apparently make good drinks, though I haven’t tried them yet. Mullein, dead nettle, and plantain are tea candidates, and of course, dandelions can be made into wine. I remember picking many quarts of dandelion flowers for my father to make into wine. It was a delicious, sweet wine that packed a stronger punch than one might have expected.

There is one tiny plant blooming all over in my lawn that I wasn’t able to identify, so didn’t know if it was edible, despite consulting an app on my phone. I was frustrated; aren’t apps and phones supposed to hold all the wisdom of this age?

My mother happened to call after lunch and was telling me about a paper she’s writing for her Herb Society meeting about a plant so tiny she had to use a jeweler’s loop to study its blossoms. That got my attention, and I asked what it’s called. “Hairy bittercress,” she said.

I looked up hairy bittercress, and saw the tiny plant I had been unable to identify, which turns out to be edible! Tomorrow hairy bittercress will join the other weeds in my lawn lunch salad. And perhaps next time I have a plant ID question, I will consult my mother’s 91 years of wisdom instead of my phone and its apps.

I wrote this slightly later in the season a few years ago:

My lawn is not a proper lawn
It has more other plants than grass.
Some people call them weeds, I know
But here I welcome them as friends.

Dandelions, Buttercups, Speedwell, Violets
dot the earth and add bright color.
Clover grows rich and dark,
feels cool and soft beneath my toes.

Ground Ivy spreads her purple robe
under trees, throughout the shade;
Blackseed Plantain and other “weeds”
Are lush and green through summer’s heat.

My lawn has life and shape and color
Always changing, ever bright.
I like it just the way it is
And never want a proper lawn.

Wild garlic, dandelion, and a sweet violet peeking out
Ground ivy, purple dead nettle, and dandelion
Hairy bittercress
Soon the speedwell will be turning our lawn a beautiful light blue

April A to Z April Blogging L

Katydids

“What is that awful sound?” a friend asked as we stepped outside one summer evening. I stopped to listen.

“What awful sound?”

“That loud, repetitious noise coming from all around!”

Ahhh… that sound… “Katy-did, Katy-didn’t, Katy-did, Katy-didn’t…” One of my favorite sounds of the summer nights, now louder, now softer, filling the dark with the musical speech of hundreds of katydids proclaiming their love.

Every summer the katydids start their singing the last week of July- the week of my birthday, so I think of it as nature’s birthday song for me. I step outside with anticipation every evening, listening for the first, hesitant “Katy did, Katy did, Katy did,” as the chorus tunes up. Within minutes there are singers from several directions trying out their new voices (which are actually more like violins than voices, since the sound is made by rubbing wings together) and soon the night is filled with the throbbing music of many katydids. Katy-did, Katy-didn’t, Katy-did, Katy-didn’t…

On a another summer night our two oldest grandchildren sat on our front steps with me, excited but a bit nervous, being outside in the dark after their bedtime. Their concern quickly turned to rapt attention as katydids called from the field in front of us, with an echoing answer from beyond the stream behind us. Surrounded by the soft dark of the night, we watched the stars, listened to the song of the katydid, and sat in silent wonder.

Katydid watercolor

April A to Z April Blogging K

Artist Friends

I know the title of this post doesn’t begin with “J,” which is the letter of the day for April A to Z Blogging, but that’s because I couldn’t find any synonyms for “artist” that begin with J, and I am featuring several artist friends whose names begin with J who have inspired me and encouraged me.

While I am a fairly extreme introvert, I value relationships deeply and very much appreciate my friends. As I was thinking about artists who have helped me grow, I was surprised at how many of their names begin with J, hence the idea for this post. Of course, there are other artists who have had an impact on me, and I appreciate them just as much, but today is for J.

Jennifer is the one I have known the longest, for… well perhaps I won’t say for how long, but I’ve known her since she was a few days old. She’s my younger sister, but I’ve always looked up to her as an artist, and I have learned a great deal from her. Jennifer and I often text or email our paintings to each other for feedback, critique, and suggestions, and I always know I can count on her for honest feedback. Once when I emailed her a painting, her feedback was straightforward and to the point– “Paper shredder,” so I am confident when she gives me positive feedback that she really means it. Jennifer often paints much larger than I do and in oils, but we also share a love for watercolor and for sketching; we have identical “Sisters’ Sketchbooks” that we use when we are together, and I treasure those times. If you’d like to see Jennifer’s work, her website is Jennifer Thompson Art.

I first connected with my friend Jamie when a mutual friend in Florida commented on a painting Jamie had posted on Facebook. I saw the painting and immediately recognized it as a spot I knew locally! It turned out Jamie doesn’t live too far from me, and since then we’ve painted together often. Jamie has been incredibly inspiring to me and has, by her example, encouraged me to try new approaches and mediums that I might not have otherwise considered. In addition to her beautiful painting and calligraphy, Jamie excels at testing new materials and she keeps careful and beautifully presented notes about them in her sketchbooks, which I often refer to on her blog, Hudson Valley Sketches.

I met Jana during my first artist residency at Acadia National Park, and we hit it off right away. She had been Artist-in-Residence there several times and knew all sorts of fabulous tips about little-known places to paint. We worked together a year and a half later to lead the Acadia Artists’ Retreat, and also rented a cabin together for several days of hiking and painting on the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Unlike the small watercolor sketches I usually do when painting on location, Jana’s plein air landscapes tend to be fairly large acrylic paintings; even though the medium and format are different, I always learn from studying her work. I could happily lose myself in Jana’s paintings of rocks, water, and various landforms for hours. You can enjoy them, as well as her delightful animal paintings, on her blog, Jana Matusz on Site.

Janice paints with words, rather than a brush. It was she who inspired me to do this A to Z blogging, which I have been greatly enjoying. Janice blogs about healthy living, food, and books, as well as some fiction and motivational writing, and we share all those interests (well, so far I haven’t written any fiction, but I do enjoy reading it). I’ve enjoyed reading her posts during this challenge, and I hope more friends will join in for the remainder of this month or next year. Last year Janice posted 26 reviews of memoirs during April A to Z blogging. You also can be motivated by her blog, Janice Dimmock.

So I was about to wrap up this piece, when Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15:15 came to mind: “I have called you friends.” And he is the Master Artist, and of course his name begins with J! How could I not have thought of him when planning this post?! As I mulled that over, I realized I think of Jesus as God, Lord, Savior, Comforter, Teacher, but not often as friend. I’m not sure why that is, as his word, the Bible, is replete with images and teaching about friendship, but I will be pondering that. Jesus inspires me every day with the beauty of his artwork. You can see Jesus’ work by looking out your window.

April A to Z April Blogging J

Idols

A few years ago someone gave me a little stone statue that they had bought while traveling in another country. It was a somewhat squat figure, like a person with exaggerated features and an odd expression on the face. My first thought was that it was interesting, though not really my type of art. Then the person who gave it to me said that it was an idol from an older culture from where they had been visiting. The first two of the Ten Commandments came to mind:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery

 “You shall have no other gods before me.

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… Exodus 20: 1-5

It was awkward, but I felt I had to give it back, because we didn’t feel comfortable having an idol in our home, especially when we’d been clearly told it was an idol. I didn’t want a carved idol in my home then, and I’m certainly not in inclined to buy or carve myself a stone or wood statue to bow down to now. I don’t worship idols… or do I?

Stone statues or golden calves might be obvious idols, and it’s pretty easy to see that money or food could become idols, but it’s possible to make an idol of anything if we give it the place or power in our life that is rightfully God’s and that is only safe in God’s hands.

One common idol of our time is busyness. Not that being busy is always bad, but I think too often our busyness determines how we feel about who we are. Do we get our self-esteem, a feeling of being good or adequate or important, from being busy, rather than from the knowledge that we are created in God’s image, created to live in relationship with God and loved by him? And if we suddenly get slowed down, say by a pandemic, does our self-esteem topple?

Or what about reputation? That’s a tough one for me. I want people to like me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting that, but what about when I let my concern about other people’s opinion determine what I do or say? Ultimately my goal and purpose is to live for God, but if I’m letting concern about my reputation determine what I do, I am making an idol of reputation. And that’s when I see that it’s only safe to give that power to God.

God made me who I am, and there’s nothing so freeing as growing into who he has made me with my unique personality and interests, and nothing so fulfilling as using my strengths and abilities to live for him. But if I give the power to determine what I do or who I am to other people, I end up becoming captive to the need to please others. That’s why I really like how the Ten Commandments start: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of … slavery.” God wants me to be free, but I find myself tempted in numerous ways to make an idol of something, and then I risk becoming captive to that. By his grace, though, I am becoming freer as I recognize my idols and give them up.

What idols do you see in our society or in your own life? Let’s get rid of our idols and be free!

April A to Z April Blogging I

Hope

Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

I love this verse. Who wouldn’t want the strength, energy, and endurance it promises? I especially love the imagery of soaring like an eagle and of running without becoming weary. I ran track and cross-country in high school, and it was rare that I wasn’t so tired I’d feel like quitting at some point during a race. What kept me going at those times, rather than giving up from weariness? Hope. There were two sorts of hope, actually.

One was the hope that I would win the race. That was a rather nebulous sort of hope, since I wasn’t the fastest runner on Fox Lane’s team, plus a rival school had triplet girls on their team who seemed like they had wings for feet, with all three girls typically finishing first, second, and third in every race. The other hope was more solid, and it didn’t depend on how many runners finished before I did. That was the knowledge that I would feel good for having run and finished the race. That second hope is a bit closer to what Isaiah was talking about. It’s not the “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow” kind of hope, which is really more of a wish that may or may not be based on facts, but a hope based on confidence and facts.

The hope the Bible refers to is more like the confidence that, whether or not it rains tomorrow, the sun will rise. I might not be able to see the sun if the clouds are heavy, but I know it will be there. It is a confident expectation, based on God’s character, that he will fulfill his promises to those who put their trust in him, despite all the darkness and clouds we encounter in this life. That is the hope that enables us to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint, to renew our strength, and, at least figuratively, to soar like an eagle. I like having that sort of hope.

Like Isaiah with his image of a soaring eagle, I find reminders of this hope in nature, both the ways that hope is already fulfilled with strength or encouragement for this present time and the promise of more yet to come. The following is a piece of writing I did on hope a couple of summers ago.

House Finches and Goldfinches sing; a gray squirrel churrs in the silver maple tree; a Downy Woodpecker taps, finding life and hope in a dead tree; the brook babbles as it flows with renewed energy after yesterday’s rain; a cool breeze ruffles my hair, soothing my soul.

Sunlight dapples woods and grass with myriad shades of green, all signs of life, of spring’s hope fulfilled, yet not yet fulfilled, as seeds still silently grow, ripen, and mature—promise and hope for next year, for a new generation.

A male Robin searches the dappled grass for worms, feeds his fledglings over and over—a dad nurturing his young, while his mate warms the eggs of their second clutch, soon to hatch. Hope fulfilled yet not yet fulfilled.

Black walnuts, already round but still small, swell and grow with promise and hope. Some lie in the grass already, fallen too soon, now food for the churring squirrel’s furry young with their hope for a life of leaping through sun-dappled trees, feeding on walnuts large and small. Hope fulfilled yet not yet fulfilled.

The blue of the sky, the chorus of birds and burgeoning brook, sunlight and breeze—hope for today and promise of hopes not yet fulfilled.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
Psalm 62:5

Here’s a post with suggestions for praying for and with hope: Hope: Hebrews 6:19-20 & 10:19-22

April A to Z April Blogging H

“Victory Flight”

Granddaddy’s Books

Formerly the property of
Charles Coffing Beach MD
given now by his son
Goodwin Batterson Beach Litt. D & LHD
to his granddaughter
Melissa Hamilton Thompson
March 1975

The above is the inscription in the first volume of The Riverside Natural History, which set of books my grandfather gave me a couple of months before he died. Published in 1884, there are six volumes, each weighing nearly six pounds. I have another book from his library, Erasmus’ Translation of the New Testament into Latin. There isn’t a single word of English in this small volume, but I at least I can read the numbers; this one was published in 1543. Throughout the book, each page has a column of the original Greek side by side with Erasmus’ Latin translation. I used to be able to read the Greek reasonably well with some lexical help and was also generally able to read the Latin. Sadly, I am now very rusty in both languages.

Granddaddy often spoke to me in Latin, insisting that Latin was a living language that could still be spoken in everyday life. I absorbed Latin words as part of the air I breathed, since I’d heard him speaking Latin to me from the time I was a baby. Even when Granddaddy spoke English, it was sprinkled with many now-archaic words and expressions that were archaic even then and have given me a lasting love of beautiful and seldom-used words. In addition to inspiring a love for language and languages, Granddaddy was one of the people who inspired in me a love of all learning, not only the languages he loved, but also the animals and nature that I was most drawn to. Hence the gift of The Riverside Natural History, as well as numerous books about animals and veterinarians throughout my childhood.

I put Volume 1 of the Natural History back on my shelf and reach for Vol. 5: The Mammals, but stop to look at the binding. Deep brown leather, a bit cracked and worn on the edges, gold lettering, decorative patterns engraved in the almost 3 inch wide spine. I run my fingers along the leather, pull the volume off my shelf, see the multi-colored swirling pattern on the edges of the closed pages, then open the book to see the marbled end pages inside the binding. As I hold the heavy volume, fifty years drop away, and I am standing in Granddaddy’s library…

Books line the walls, neatly arranged on built-in shelves up to the ceiling, bindings drawing me close to look, tempting me to run my finger over the soft, worn leather; titles promising knowledge and adventure, if only I could read Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages. Just touching the bindings fills me with a hunger to learn, to enter conversations long ago started by the people Granddaddy knows through their words, who have shaped him into the grandfather I know. I move slowly from one shelf to another, savoring the rich red, brown, black, and tan leather-bound books, some narrow, some three or more inches wide, a few with titles I read, most in Latin or some other language I can’t yet read. I want to learn the languages so I can join the conversations.

I am entranced by the books, but the reason I am here is Granddaddy, sitting in the corner in his armchair with the coarse, tan tweed upholstery with a singe mark on one arm, bookshelves on both sides and a small end table with his talking books beside his chair. He can’t see very well anymore and he doesn’t move so quickly these days, so after I use the wood and leather bellows to get the fire blazing brightly again in the small fireplace in the corner of his office, I bring him his pipe and a glass of water, then nestle into his lap, leaning my head against his chest, my cheek against his scratchy tweed jacket. Granddaddy wraps his strong arms and gentle hands around me, arms and hands that have split wood and stacked it into circular piles that made great forts for all of us grandchildren, that carefully planted hundreds of seedlings, that tirelessly pushed my siblings and me around in a wheelbarrow when we were smaller, and that have held thousands of books to read or to inspire others from. I breathe deeply, the scent of the library fire, of Granddaddy’s pipe, of a world of books stirring in me a longing for knowledge and eagerness to learn. I breathe out and nestle closer, listening to Granddaddy’s heart beating slow and steady, feel his arms strong and gentle around me, and relax in the knowledge that I am loved.

Granddaddy– I keep this photo on my desk

April A to Z April Blogging G

Fishing

“It’s still alive!”

“Can’t be. It’s been in the fridge since yesterday. You’re imagining things.”

“It IS! It quivered when I threw it in the laundry sink.”

With Big Sister Superiority, I went to the mudroom to prove Jennifer wrong. Of course the fish wasn’t alive; Jennifer had caught it the day before and it had been in the fridge ever since, wrapped in a piece of waxed paper and shoved in between milk cartons, Hawaiian Punch, cans of Spam (yuck), jam, cheese (Brie for our parents, Swiss for me, cheddar for Jennifer, and individually wrapped American for one of our brothers), along with the numerous jars of condiments and exotic sauces that our father used for his internationally inspired gourmet dishes.

Whenever our father took us fishing in the evening, he drove us to the Lake, but we often walked by ourselves if we wanted to fish in the afternoon, and that’s what Jennifer had done the day before after school. Down the hill behind our house, along the narrow, winding path through our woods, past the Leighton’s tennis court, through the sumacs on the other side of the tennis court, along another path by the Preston’s house (we always hurried and watched out for their three German Shepherds in that area), down another neighbor’s long, paved driveway, then along Old Wagon Road till we got to the Lake’s driveway. Then down that long stretch, stepping around or leaping over potholes, stopping to pick black raspberries from the long briars reaching out to grab us from the woods, and of course hurrying as we went by the haunted house on the right. Finally we’d get to the Lake with its grassy area that wasn’t mowed often enough and its small sandy beach.

Given that this was a catfish, I’m guessing Jennifer had been fishing on the far side of the beach, not near the dock. That was the side with lots of water weeds and squishy stuff underfoot, where no one swam. That’s where Papa had caught Hoover, our pet catfish, who had wiggled between Papa’s toes as a tiny baby catfish. Papa had brought him home and he lived in a tank on our kitchen counter. By now he was several inches long and came to our hand when we tapped the glass or fed him freeze-dried worms or sneaked him bits of food we didn’t want. But this fish Jennifer had caught must have been Hoover’s great-grandfather, given his size.

Jennifer had the best luck when it came to fishing. She was the one who’d caught a five pound bass right off the end of the dock. She hadn’t even been able to pull it up from the water it was so heavy, so Papa had run over and scooped it up with a net. That fish was dinner for our whole family. This catfish wasn’t five pounds, but it was by far the biggest catfish I’d ever seen, far bigger than the decent-sized ones I’d caught and eaten.

Jennifer had managed to pull it out of the water by herself (that was easier to do when you could just slide it out along the squishy sand rather than lift it up from the water to the dock), but she hadn’t been able to get the hook out; it was thoroughly stuck through the side of the fish’s mouth. She headed home with her catch, but the fish was heavy and the day was hot, so after a while she ended up dragging it along behind her. By the time she got home she was tired and dinner was almost ready anyway, so she cut the fish line and wrapped the fish in a piece of waxed paper and stuck it in the fridge. Thankfully our mother was not too picky about what we stuck in the fridge, so the fish stayed there until Jennifer took it out to clean it the next day after school.

And now she was saying it was alive. Fat chance of that! I grabbed the cold, dusty fish and threw it back into the large laundry sink. It quivered! I threw it in again and it quivered more. Jennifer was right; the fish really was alive!

I fiddled with the hook in the fish’s mouth and got it out, then filled the sink with water and started moving the fish around as if he were swimming. I knew that fish had to move forward to make the water flow over their gills, so I figured if I kept it moving, maybe it would absorb some oxygen and revive. That would be pretty cool! After a few minutes the fish seemed to be quivering more intentionally, as if slowly coming back to life, and in a little while longer, it was clearly trying to swim!

There was no way we were going to eat this Granddaddy Catfish now. We put him in the wading pool on the terrace where he swam around for a couple of days, eating our offerings of worms and soggy dough balls (at least someone likes Pepperidge Farm white bread), until Papa could drive us to the Lake. Jennifer let the Catfish go on the squishy, weedy side, and I’m guessing his great-great-great grandchildren are still swimming in the Lake.

A to Z April Blogging F