Michele M. Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat
At age 6, Mom introduced me to the concept of Lent. My kid reaction was typical. “I hafta give up WHAT? For HOW LONG?”
When it came to food, I was always a weird kid. Texture mattered more to me than taste. I hated anything sticky!
My fetish wasn’t limited to food. My first grade teacher could only make me apply glue at gunpoint.
Time marched on. Catechism taught me Lent was a season of self-evaluation and spiritual growth. I still didn’t get how giving up sticky sweets, which didn’t appeal to me in the first place, would improve my character.
Then I discovered the Lenten “perk!” We were expected to go “meatless” on designated days. But we could eat FISH!
I LOVE FISH! My grandfather joined the Navy at 16, and was primarily stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
Fisherman’s Wharf turned G-Pa into a seafood gourmet. When my dad attended college in Philly, G-Pa introduced him to more fishy favorites.
During summer vacations, G-Pa and I discovered more of Neptune’s bounty.
I had dislikes.
Mackerel was just icky, and squirmy calamari squished.
Mussels made me feel like I was eating an eyeball. And I shunned trout because I’d never eat something that got caught because it wanted to eat a worm!
But delicious stuff remained: Haddock, sole, cod, shrimp, shark, scallops, crab and lobster!
Working at our church fish fries seemed the next logical step. Waitressing may have been a bad choice because I don’t always play well with others.
When a lady requested crab cake with mac ’n cheese, I delivered her meal promptly.
“I ordered crab cake,” she roared. “This ISN’T IT! Take it back and bring what I asked for!”
Humiliated, I slunk back to the kitchen where a wiser, veteran worker put the plate under a heat lamp. “Wait five minutes and take it back.”
“Did she expect frosting and birthday candles?” I snarled.
When I returned the same dish five minutes later, the Gorgon smiled.
“This is more like it!”
After stints as an applesauce dipper and a halushki scooper, I became a cashier. Three or four of us greeted customers, filled order forms, passed them to the waitresses, took cash and made change.
Dozens of mind-numbing summer jobs had prepared me for accurate change-making. I found my “fish niche!”
And then came 1999, the year the government minted new quarters celebrating the 50 states.
I never expected this seemingly harmless idea to bite us on our fannies.
Our prices were average by local fish fry standards: $7.25 for fish dinners; $7.50 for shrimp or crab platters.
“Dear, I’ll take a baked fish dinner with baked potato and cole slaw.” A lady untied her babushka and removed a $5 and 3 $1’s from her wallet. “And, for my change, could I have one Maine quarter, one Delaware and a Kentucky?”
People never fail to amaze you! The craze caught on and we finally had to post a sign saying “We regret that we are unable to honor requests for specific coins in change.”
Lenten regulations say only one full meal may be eaten on Good Friday. I plan to hop over and eat mine at Red Lobster.
See you there!