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You Ain't Never Seen Nuthin Like This

 

I was eating with my son the other day in one of those all-you-can eat joints, and we both got a piece of hot, whole-fried catfish.

 

“How do you eat this thing?” my son looked at me with a puzzled look when we got back to the table.

 

I took my fork and split my piece along the dorsal fin and showed him how most of the bones ran down the center of the fish (spine) and then showed him how to delicately pluck the pieces from around the tricky, gill area where the head used to be.

 

“This shit takes too long,” he said, getting up from the table. “I’m going for fillets.”

 

Eating that catfish – and man was it good – took me back to a time when people ate whatever they could get, and enjoyed it, because that was all they were going to get. People were poor and a piece of whole fish was considered a delicacy. No one cared about fillets. Fillets? Heck, we didn’t need no stinking fillets. Now all the younger generation wants everything filleted and fast.

 

I once worked at a Textile Mill named Avondale (you may have seen this name from some of my other blogs). After my elevator fall accident, I got a lot of cushy jobs at Avondale, one of which was working in the cotton warehouse. When cotton sellers sold cotton to the mill, it would arrive in boxcars and trucks. The 10 men on my crew helped weigh and sample the bales Avondale received. Each bale was sampled for quality and fiber length, and weighed to make sure what you got was what you actually bought. Although the seller of the cotton gave you a report on what each bale weighed, and what the fiber length was, Avondale liked to know exactly what they got in each bale before they wrote a check.

 

Weighing the bales was hard work. Each man would use a pair of hand trucks to lift and maneuver the bales to a scale. The bales usually weighed between 400 and 700 pounds, so you  never really knew what you were getting with each bale. It was not easy for me, a skinny 145-pound high school junior.

 

There was an older black gentleman named Whetstone who worked on the crew. He looked like he was about 60, but the story went that no one really knew how old he was – not even Whetstone himself. His skin was extremely dark and wrinkled. His voice was deeper than the ocean, and his belly laugh could infect the crew quicker than a $10 hooker on a Saturday night.

 

I think I would have killed myself trying to weigh those bales if Whetstone had not taught me the trick. It wasn’t about brute strength like I had initially thought. It was about balance. After watching me struggle with the bales for about a week, ole Whetstone taught me the secret.

 

Once I mastered the technique – it took me about a day because I was a quick study – I was off to the races, literally.

 

I started moving really fast with the bales, racing with the other guys (I was the only white guy on the crew and I wanted to fit in and carry my weight). It was funny for a few days, but then I started pissing off the others as I got faster and faster. That’s when ole Whetstone taught me that we got paid by the hour and not by the bale, so I slowed down a bit to not make the rest of the crew look bad.

 

At lunch time, some of the other men played dominos – John D, Buster Nicholas, Joe the chain smoker, Rudy T and Tank, to name a few – slamming each play of the domino down on the makeshift warped plywood playing board so hard, the booming sound scared me the first time I saw them play.

 

One day, ole Whetstone brought a fried fish sandwich to work. He took a bundle of white wax paper out of the crumpled brown paper bag that had been used more than once. He carefully unwrapped the package and pulled out two pieces of white bread squeezed around a piece of fish – fried bream to be exact.  Bream is a type of small fish that is shaped like the palm or your hand and prevalent in southern lakes. It’s delicate white meat is not fishy tasting at all. My grandmother used to fry them for me to eat at breakfast when I was a child. I loved my bream, and so did Whetstone.

 

As Whetstone prepared for his first bite, one of the younger guys on the crew leaned over to me and softly said, “Watch. You ain’t never seen nuthin like this.”

 

I turned from the domino table to look at Whetstone. He gingerly bit into the sandwich as if he had no teeth, but he did, one of which in the upper front that was solid gold. He carefully worked his mouth around the sandwich, as if he didn’t want to hurt the bread, or maybe to not drop a morsel of the fish. He repeated this process several times, and when he finished, he proudly displayed a full fish skeleton in his hands. Then he laughed loud and hard.

 

We all laughed with Whetstone.

 

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Great Story

Moves right along from fish to crew work and hay bales & back to fish.  Thoroughly enjoyable read.  My hat is off.