West By Northwest.org
Sunnyside of Spencer Butte
The Cat That Flew
The talk about sauerkraut and generations has brought
to mind an experience from my girlhood which I hereby share with you, kind readers.
In the early thirties my family spent several winters sharecropping in the Florida Everglades, in an effort to earn cash for payments on an Ohio farm. Our home there was a small frame house twenty miles south of Miami in a truck gardening area east of the Key West highway. Several square miles of rich black soil had been drained by canals which empties into the Bay of Biscay two miles away. These canals, about twenty feet wide by ten feet deep, carried fresh water which the incoming tide backed up to eight feet deep twice daily. Moss grew luxuriantly in the fresh warm water, making good cover for fish, alligators, water moccasins and other aquatic life.
Great schools of fish called silver mullet came up the canal by our house with the tide to feed on the moss. One of our pastimes was trying to count how many fish there were in a school in that sparklingly clear water. Our estimates went to several hundred. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon we walked to the Bay where we could see a dozen schools at a time jumping in silvery flowing cascades across the water for half a mile or more. They were so plentiful we thought they could never be used up.
But even then, forty years ago, environmentally conscious Floridians had passed some protective laws. One such law made it illegal to kill mullet by exploding dynamite in the water among them. Nevertheless, we frequently heard an explosion at daylight down near the Bay where poachers DID dynamite fish for fertilizer. An explosion would often yield a truckload of fish which were gathered from the surface where they floated, and hauled to the fertilizer factory before law-enforcement officers were up and about.
The mullet were twelve to twenty inches long, and delicious eating, but they would not bite a hook. The local people showed us how to spear them with a gig attached to a bamboo pole, and we had fresh fish on our table almost every day thereafter.
Dad often went fishing while Mother fixed breakfast. He would hold his spear in the midst of a feeding school of fish. They soon became accustomed to it and would swim calmly over, under, or past the tip as they fed. A quick thrust could impale one on the barbed points as it went by.
Most of us caught fish this way one time or another. We had to learn to judge location of spear and fish because the pole always looked bent at the point where it entered the water. What a thrill to spear one of those beauties and lift it squirming from the water. The pole quivered till it seemed it would jump out of one's hands, and the fish were unbelievably heavy way out there at the end of that ten foot bamboo handle.
I often got the job of cleaning the fish Dad speared. They had to be scaled then beheaded and gutted. Our family cat loved fish, and would wait impatiently for her share. In fact she only waited because she couldn't help herself since I was bigger and kept pushing her away.
One evening she was particularly insistent. I pushed. I scatted her. I used my foot, but kitty was hungry and came back each time trying to make off with the fish before I could scrape another scale. Finally, in exasperation, I grabbed her tail and flung her across country about twenty feet. Preparing, as a cat will, to land feet first, she spread all four legs wide as she whirled end for end past the open kitchen door where she landed on the walk just beyond.
I heard Grandmother chuckling in the kitchen as the surprised cat took her bearings and headed for the fish-cleaning scene again. Still chuckling, Grandmother stuck her head around the corner and said, "That's the first time I ever saw a cat fly!"
Books by Lois Barton