Eel Pie

By Hugo Heinz-Smith | Oct 09, 2011

Rockport — We'd just bought a piece of land. My guess is this was the spring of '72. I was 5 and we'd moved from England the previous fall. My stepfather had bought a mobile home soon after we'd arrived. In my memory, I see it colored an avocado green and dark brown which remind me of the early 70s. The sculpted carpet in the living room was burnt orange to match. I'm sure you can imagine it. Perhaps we were on the cutting edge of fashion, but I doubt it. He'd come to an arrangement with someone who'd let him perch it on a hill on the edge of town until he'd found land to buy.

Over that winter he'd found some land a few miles out of town. I think it was an acre. I don't remember much about the buying of the place, apart from one trip we made there. We walked around in the tall grass while the wind and mist blew in our faces. It was between the road and a big marsh. On the other side of the marsh was the Shubenacadie River. The river was brown, the color of strong tea with a little milk. The soil was red and I remember a lot of mud. Once spring came, he had the trailer towed off the hill and repositioned on the new property.

The marsh would flood at high tide. Perhaps not all high tides, but often enough. At least, I think it did. I'd put on my boots and cross the marsh to get to the river during low tide. A fisherman or two used to come and fish there. One day I walked out to see one of the fishermen and found that he'd caught an eel. He didn't want it, or perhaps he was just kind,and amused by my curiosity. He gave it to me to take home. I wasn't about to carry it, probably couldn't have if I'd wanted to, so I took off one of my boots used that to carry the eel back to the trailer.

The area around the trailer must have had some drainage issues. My stepfather had dug a network of shallow trenches around the house to take the water away. I don't remember my mother's initial reaction. I suppose she didn't know what to do with it right away. Whatever the reason, she had me pour the it into one of the ditches. There must have been standing water remaining from the last rain, or perhaps they were always full. I suppose this must have been a Sunday.

I went to school the next day. When I got home it was supper time and my mother had made eel pie. I remember it tasting strongly of fish. This wasn't a mild, haddocky pie. This was a strong, I am fish pie. After we'd eaten, we went outside. My mother had something to show my brother and me. Standing next to one of the ditches was a shovel stuck in the mud. It was the kind of shovel with just a wooden pole for a handle. But now the end of the handle had a cover, a tight fitting eel skin cover. She'd skinned the eel in once piece and then, I suspect with some urging from my stepfather, unrolled it down over over the handle. It fit perfectly. It wasn't until years later, and perhaps only fully now, as I recall the scene, that I realize why there was so much mirth as they showed it to us.

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