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Archive for February 14th, 2012

I don’t remember much about my kindergarten year in Yokohama, Japan, but I do recall I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s where I played hooky for the first time (I went fishing), and that’s where I was served my first fish that still had its head on it.  Minutes before the meal, I was lead to the restaurant’s indoor trout pond and waterfall, where I was given a bamboo pole with a dough ball neatly wrapped around a tiny hook. Three seconds after dipping the line in, I yanked a pan-sized trout out of the water. Zip, zang! The trout – – MY trout – – was clipped with a double, V-shaped identifying tail-notch. Flipping and flapping, the trout was quickly carried off into the restaurant’s steamy kitchen.

Thanks, kid -- I see you!

After a while, a waiter delivered the very same fish to our dining table. He pointed at the double, V-shaped tail-notch and grinned, but I was more interested in the fish’s head end, where a single, crispy-fried eyeball stared up at me from a bed of fluffy, white rice and lettuce.

I fiddled with my chopsticks.

“What’s the matter, young man?” asked my father. “You love fish.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “But this one’s LOOKING at me!”

Mom reached across the table and sliced off the fish’s head with a knife. She wrapped the head in her napkin and placed it beside her plate. “There,” she said. “Just like the way Grandpa cooks them.”

Wink, Wink!

I ate the fish, but had a difficult time keeping my eyes from wandering to Mom’s folded napkin. The trout’s nose was sticking out of a corner, and I knew the rest of the head was waiting for the napkin to slip just so it could sneak another peek at me.

Soon, the meal was finished, the table cleared, and Mom’s napkin forgotten. Later that night I laid awake and thought about the trout.

I think that was the first time I realized there was a difference between the fish I caught back home — the headless and anonymous kind that Grandpa cleaned when nobody was looking — and the more personal one I had yanked out of that Japanese Restaurant’s trout pond. No doubt, if I had been that fish, I, too, would want to stare at whomever was eating me.

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(circa 2000)

Pulling in to the town of Spring Mills, Pennsylvania is like taking a step back into time. Old houses, barns and out buildings constructed at the turn of the century sit on quaint properties and quiet streets. It is a mind boggling change from urban sprawl and big city neighborhoods. A world apart.

Walt’s house sits in the eerie shadow of Egg Hill, a tangled slope of mysterious dead-falls and hardwood trees. The back porch has a sticky screen door that slams shut onto a hewn, wooden-floored mud room, whose worn traffic-way has no doubt seen the coming and goings of generations of feet. The sound of the slamming screen door immediately transported me back to rural Indiana where my grandmother had a similar back porch that also channeled generations of visitors into a warm and well lighted kitchen, always filled with the same sweet smells of fresh baked goods and simmering chicken like the ones that greeted me as I stepped into Walt’s Pennsylvania farmhouse.

During the first night of my visit, a gentle rain fell on the house’s tin roof. I laid awake for several hours listening to the melodic pattering, punctuated by an occasional groan or rustic creak whispered from invisible corners of the household. The walls and floors and ceilings were as alive as the tree branches that gently brushed the lead glass windows, making clicking sounds with their spring green fingertips.

After a while, having finally been accepted by the house-ghosts, I drifted off into a deep and tranquil country sleep.

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