Within the general scheme, the great plan, the giant architecture of life and living, lie the itty-bitty moments and giant memories that comprise the whole smokin’ deal. That’s a pretty basic thought about a concept both more complex and simple than I can possibly imagine. To be honest, I’ve given up trying to figure it all out. I just try to ditty-bop through life, going along with the flow, enjoying the moment. In that shallow vein of fluff, I share here my thoughts on goldfish. Not the kind of goldfish that swim in bowls of water placed on the family room sofa table. No, I give you crackers. Little, crispy, golden fish crackers dusted with parmesan, cheddar, and salt, all schooled together in a foil-lined paper bag awaiting my happy attention.
The fabulous Julia Child — who taught millions of middle-America women to be unafraid of a whole, raw chicken; who accepted the occasional cake failure but, refusing to go down in dessert-less defeat, would morph the ruins into a rich and decadent chocolate trifle – on national television, no less; who revered the process of selecting the unmarred zucchini and the perfect pepper – yes, I have read that Julia Child served her guests fine pre-dinner wines accompanied by Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. What better reference could there be than that? If they were good enough for Julia, they’re certainly good enough for me.
I eat a few of the fishies almost every day. And, although there are times when I’ll shove a half dozen into my mouth at once, I usually employ a favorite process. The very first step is to hold it by the head and bite the tail off. Each and every time I feel that cracker crunch, I am reminded of – of all things – the Kliban Cat, a big, tough, striped alley-living, cartoon feline whose picture graced my friend Susan’s and my t-shirts where he proclaimed, “If I had two dead rats, I’d give you one,” the quintessential declaration of true friendship. Kliban Cat was also shown sitting on a stool with a guitar held in his paws. Sue and I sang the words together: Love to eat them mousies, Mousies what I love to eat. Bite they little heads off, Nibble on they tiny feet.” We added our own long, bluesy, “O-h-h-h-h, yeah…” our hands in the air, fingers shaking as though we’d just completed a verse with Big Mama Thornton herself. It makes me laugh even now, a favorite memory brought to me by the unrelated magic of goldfish.
I move on to step 2 and examine the outside of the body. Again, I am transported back, this time to Steep Falls, Maine in the early 1960’s. Summers came, and each morning the school bus picked us up and shuttled us over to Watchic Lake for swimming lessons. We took a sandwich along and wrapped up each session by eating peanut butter and jelly on the beach. Afternoons were filled with more swimming and, for the boys, fishing. And, my friends Marie and Dorothy and I simply loved to clean their catch of the day, usually brook trout. There we were, three 10-, 11- 12-year old girls sitting in the back yard, with newspapers, dead fish, and sharp knives. As I look at my goldfish crackers today, I feel a long-ago sun on my back and the resistance of blade meeting fin. I run my hands along the body to be sure I got all of them, and, then I pick up the severed fin and study it, marveling at its toughness and wondering how that fit in with its placement on a soft and pliant body. In the memory of my mind, my young friends and I are discussing the entrails and how they once worked for the fish. We talk of American Indians and how they gave thanks to their prey, and, in honor of the Indigenous People and wildlife, we offer our innocent thanks and respect to the trout. A day will soon come when we do not want to touch a fish and especially do not want to see its innards. But, today, as I bite into my crispy snack, I again experience summer, young friendships, and learning about some of nature’s solemnities. I give thanks for those friendships, to the Pepperidge Farm people, of course – and to all the human and non-human creatures that have contributed to my life and strength.
Finally, I see the goldfish as it is, a tail-less little cracker body. It is hollow, and I marvel at the science of a lump of solid dough rising to create a crunchy shell around absolutely nothing. I marvel, too, that in the 2 1/2 seconds since I first picked it up, I have lived several pieces of life — laughing, singing, swimming, feeling, exploring, praying. I pop the goldfish into my mouth and savor the flavors it brings. It is one of those itty-bitty moments with great big memories – and, yes, it is a big, smokin’, life-is-great kind of deal.