Editor’s note: This column was originally published on July 7, 2011
Kids and fish — that’s a magic combination, right? And if you can mortify your mother-in-law along the way, so much the better.
For the past several years, my family has joined with a group of others and participated in the personal-use setnet fishery on the Kasilof beach — a rollicking good time, if ever there was one. My kids are now old enough to help out with handling the fish we catch, and when you’re dealing with a dozen fish or more at a time, every little bit helps.
My daughter Grace is now 8, and for the past couple of years, she’s had fish-bonking duty. My son Billy, now 10, has helped with gutting the fish before we tuck them away in the ice chest. They both do a good job, though maybe they’ve taken on their new responsibilities with a little too much zeal.
My mother-in-law was visiting from New Jersey a year or two ago, and was in town during the fishery. I’m sure it was just coincidence that my turn to camp out down on the beach and watch the net came on the same few days.
Anyway, Grace jumped right into her fish-bonking duties. However, before she’d bonk a fish, she’d declare, in her best voice of doom, “Prepare to die.” Meanwhile Billy, being a boy, has never hesitated to wipe off his hands on his shirt, pants, or whatever other piece of clothing he happens to be wearing. After gutting a few fish, he looks like the main character of a bad 80s slasher flick.
Needless to say, Grandma was shocked when we showed up to the house to stow a batch of fish in the freezer and shower up. And really, between Billy’s appearance, spattered with fish blood from head to toe, and Grace’s description of our activities, and without having the experience of the Alaska family working together to put up fish for the winter to draw on, perhaps she had a point (though I don’t think she needed to ask my wife whether she should call family services).
From my perspective, the whole is experience was one of those teachable moments, a chance to impart some sort of life lessons about hard work and working together to my kids.
With Grace, we talked about showing some more respect for the fish. After all, sockeye salmon runs have been sustaining Alaska families for thousands of years. We talked about thanking the fish for swimming into our net, and for providing us with a meal later this year.
As for Billy, cleaning him up might be a hopeless task. We’re still trying to get him to stop eating with his fingers. But, he has the satisfaction of being part of the group effort that puts food on the table. The next time we serve up a salmon dinner, everyone at the table will have contributed to the meal. There’s intrinsic value to that.
And if my mother-in-law, the next time she visits, is a little grossed when we talk about all that went into getting that fish to the table, well, there’s intrinsic value in that, too.
Will Morrow is editor of the Peninsula Clarion.