This is a random memory, and has nothing to do with Christmas. (Small rebellion. Love it.)
When I was a kid, about a million years ago, my dad worked for a lumber company. The lumber company had a mill pond, which was largely ceremonial; logs did not actually float in it at any point. However, the owner kept the mill pond stocked, and fed the fish year round, in anticipation of the annual company picnic, at which all the families were invited to participate in the Fishing Derby.
Fishing derbies are a lot of fun, actually. Prizes are handed out for first fish caught, biggest fish, smallest fish, fish caught by the youngest person, ditto the oldest. Even at a young age, I was a pretty avid indoors-woman, so I wasn’t keen on the… fishy portions of the day, but it was a fun party, and Mom relaxed all her thoughts on soda, so we spent the day marinating in carbonated sugar. And fish.
There was one problem: the kindly owner fed the fish with dry cat food all year long, so the pretty little trout tasted a lot like Purina. This is not exactly a sought-after flavor in trout.
My family, being a large one, tended to catch a lot of fish at the derby. My mom, being a frugal one, tended to feel really badly about tossing the caught fish, because “someone could eat those.” So, the fish would be cleaned, and, lacking guts, be wrapped whole in foil and deposited in the deep freeze at home.
And there they sat.
Until one magical day, when I was about 16, and my mom departed with my grandmother for a trip to the ancestral mountain in the Coast Range, leaving me in charge (from 6am to 3pm) of my many younger siblings. The littlest were still quite little, the youngest only four. Having Mom leave was a bit hard on them, and more than one eye was moist as the car pulled out of the driveway.
Not one to let them languish, and hoping to inspire some sort of mild slavish devotion (I had lofty goals of scrubbing the house top to bottom while Mom was gone, and having Minions to help figured highly in those goals), I did my best to cheer them up.
I made a big show of knighting each with a humorous title (relating to the chore I hoped they would do, actually). Then I announced that we would begin the vacation with a ceremonial duel. With swords.
And I headed to the freezer.
Frozen whole trout, wrapped in foil, make a remarkable stand-in for swords.
At first, the intersections of trout-swords have a crisp, cracking sound. Over time, on a hot summer afternoon, the sound changes to a rather damp “Splodge”, but it’s still pretty satisfying to beat back your attacker with the face end of a semi-frozen fish.
As each new sword was exhausted, we turned it into the compost pile and buried the foil in the trash cans, deep. It was a long, hot, fishy afternoon.
After the ceremonial duels, the boys were feeling better, and I was pretty well established as a Pretty Nifty Substitute for Mom.
The boys also got to enjoy bathing al fresco, in the hose and with plenty of lemon washing-up liquid, because when you add the smell of formerly-frozen fish juice to the normal musty, doggy smell of little boys in the hot sun, it gets manky pretty quickly, and you don’t want that walking on your carpet. Ever.