Like many representatives of his gender, my son is project-driven. Do not ask him to sit and have a conversation, unless it’s about the melting point of copper or where to find 25 pounds of modeling clay. Our house is littered with the detritus of ongoing or abandoned experiments (it’s hard to tell the difference): wooden boards sprouting odd arrangements of nails and wires; pennies soaking in mysterious solutions on the counter; a cup of birch leaves in the freezer; 24 pounds of leftover clay hardening in the basement. We have a mantle full of old medicine bottles and containers, which he dug up with a metal detector in the dregs of an ancient trash heap in the woods. And if ever I’m missing a wooden spoon or mixing bowl, chances are it’s buried in mud and tin foil in the backyard, for reasons only he could explain.
To my credit, if I may say, I am fairly tolerant of all this messy experimentation, perhaps because it is familiar. My father–an engineer–was an inveterate household putterer and handyman, whose forays into plumbing regularly ended with swearing, flooded floors and expensive weekend calls to the professionals. My husband, Mr. Seventy Percent, is famous for starting and partially completing all manner of unnecessary projects (see Yard Work is No Picnic). So when my son texted me from a fishing trip he was on last week with the news that I didn’t need to make dinner because he was hauling home 50 or 60 mackerel, these are some of the things I refrained from saying:“Since when do you like fish?” “There’s a reason you never see ‘mackerel’ on a restaurant menu!” “Sounds like a stinky, bloody mess to me; don’t bother!” “I’ll order the pizza just in case.”
He and his buddy came home, proud and disgusting, spread garbage bags on the picnic table my husband had actually succeeded in refinishing, got out a knife and, in a blaze of fish guts and excited chatter, hacked the Band-Aid sized filets right out of those little mackerel. Then the boys slathered the morsels in butter and herbs and fired up the grill. They took exactly two bites apiece before asking for the leftover pizza. Trying to be a good sport, I put a piece of fish on my plate and dug in. It was oily, mealy and tasteless, but I choked it down anyway. The dogs, however, found the mackerel delicious, and it’s comforting to know that if we ever run out of dog food, we’ve still got 25 pounds of dead fish sitting in the basement freezer.