This month, I did something I never thought I’d find myself doing- flying halfway across the country to Missouri, for the sole purpose of visiting my parents, who I’d had a complex and partially severed relationship with. My intent was to re-define the nature and context of our relationship- so that looking forward, with all my hopes and dreams in mind, I know that all parts of my soul complex are properly in line and in clear perspective.
It is my beleif that the soul is like a venn-diagram, and that part of us is not our own, but rather the soul-stuff of our ancestors; Our personalities a fish-scale mail of our own input and those who came before us- our fates directed by equal part Norn, Ancestral Mother and Personal Will. As one begins to interact with this part of themself, it will guide them and lead them to conclusions about correct action on life’s journey.
My parents and I have had a rocky relationship. I have refused to talk to them for years at a time, and a large part of my psychological loop for much of my life was to emphasize a narrative of personal victimhood about my upbringing. But here’s the deal- victimhood is a narrative that ends your story. Victimhood is an identity that leaves you a martyr who is constantly nursing a wound. You can never win, because you’ve already lost. I would argue that even the popular “survivor” narrative is one that ultimately leads to a wounded-paw type of self coddling. That the only narrative where you win is one where you Won…because you are strong and those slings and arrows where mere tests of your capacity to triumph. As Marcus Aurelius would say:
“This is no misfortune, but to bear it with a noble spirit is good fortune.”
And so, having this in mind, I ventured forth to the soybean feild that is Missouri to meet my parents after a long radio silence, and redefine my relationship with them as an adult, and to search my soul stuff to see where our scales overlap. To better understand the task of mending , through my own development,the damage done through time to my familial spirit, and to better inform the kind of parent I will be in the future.
We went fishing.
Coated in more bug spray than I like to think about, and provisioned with a dozen night crawlers, we settled ourselves onto a spit of land jutting into a lake where firebugs flickered in the grass near the edge of the water. The twisted forms of bleached, dead trees created skeletal reflections on the twi-lit mirror of the lake’s surface, and as the sun disappeared, the bowl of heaven stretched out above us like some dizzying inverse reflecting pond traversed by satellites, airplanes, and the occasional falling star.
My first worm got nibbled off the hook, and my initial casts were unpracticed and too close to shore. Finally, I cast out far enough, and shortly, felt a tug on the line pinched between my fingers. It was so dark I could barely make out what was going on, but I reeled and pulled, and my dad grabbed the thing on the end of my line and pulled it out of the water, and off the hook.
When we were done for the night, we took our catches home and cleaned and gutted them. My catfish weighed in at 4.8 pounds. I was amazed at how much meat was on the head of one catfish, and insisted on being allowed to keep it and eat it for breakfast. My father was… apalled.
That night though, I made a southern style catfish stew, and my mom fried some corn cakes to go with it. What follows is the recipe.
One large fillet of catfish, cut into 1 inch squares
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 large potatoes, diced
1 can of stewed tomatoes or 2 cups fresh diced tomatoes
1.5 cups of white wine (I used a pinot grigio here)
1 can of chicken stock or 1.5 cups homemade chicken stock
1 tablespoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried thyme
fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
Juice of one lemon to finish
Cut up all vegetables and meat before beginning.
Over medium high heat, melt butter and sauté bacon. As the bacon releases more grease, add the diced onion.
When the onion is translucent, just before it might caramelize, add white pepper and paprika to the fat, and begin stirring the spices to cook them and bring out their proper flavors. Add the bell pepper, and continue stirring until the spices begin to want to cake on the bottom of the pan but not to burn there. Place a lid on the pot while you get your wine.
Remove the lid, pour in the wine, and begin vigorously scraping the spices from the bottom of the pan and stirring them into the wine. Add your fish now, and continue stirring until it begins to curl slightly.
Now, add tomatoes, thyme, and chicken broth. Bring to a high simmer.
Once the soup is simmering nicely, add your potatoes and let it all continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.
Add salt to taste and grind in fresh Black pepper. I reccomend being liberal with the black pepper.
Finally, stir in the juice of one big lemon, and cover the pot. Turn off the heat but don’t remove the lid, as you finish getting whatever hush puppies, corn bread or corn-cake you may be eating alongside the stew ready.
Enjoy in high spirits with those you must know.