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Trout


Mon, May 1st, 2000
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About a year after we were married, I took my wife out trout fishing for the second time in her life. Fishing in the Whitewater River late in the evening, she hooked the largest brown trout I had ever seen. It was twenty-two inches long and weighed over four pounds. She wanted to take it home and eat it. I insisted that, because it was the first trout she had ever caught, it should be mounted. We named the trout "Tooey", decided on his gender, placed him in a plastic bag and put him in the freezer to await a trip to the taxidermist.

I did not anticipate that Tooey’s wait would be quite as long as it turned out to be. We were farming at the time and we were too busy to get to the taxidermist that summer. Later on, when we had more time, we had even less money. Tooey stayed in the freezer and traveled with us as we moved from place to place seeking a new place to root.

Tooey’s frigid plight was always in the back of my mind. About two years after Tooey joined our family, I talked to a taxidermist who was looking for business at a county fair. I was disappointed to learn that a fish kept in the freezer for two years would probably not be a good candidate for mounting. He explained that the skin dries out rapidly in a freezer and would likely be ruined.

Over the ensuing years, Tooey made several trips out of the freezer for exhibitions to privileged friends and neighbors. Otherwise, he got in the way in more ways than one. He took up freezer space and had to be carefully packed around so he would not get his fins broken. He was also a reminder to my wife that she was right and that we should have eaten him the day she caught him and that I was at least partially mistaken for wanting to have him mounted. That is an approximation of her actual words and feelings expressed on several occasions.

Finally, after eighteen years in the freezer, Tooey found himself lying on the workbench in a taxidermy shop. I had sneaked him out of the freezer and was determined to put an end to his state of suspended animation. Either he was getting stuffed or he was going to be cat food.

The taxidermist politely admired him for a minute and then said, "He’s been in the freezer a while, I see."

"Yeah. I didn’t have the money to have him mounted when we caught him so I put him in the freezer," I told him, hoping that would end this line of questioning.

"How long? A couple years?"

"Oh, yeah. I suppose," I cringed inwardly at my subtle untruth.

He let me off the hook when he told me that he thought that he could save Tooey. Technology had advanced during the time Tooey had been in the freezer and I had stumbled upon one of the best taxidermists around. I gave him the required down payment and he assured me that Tooey would be mounted and ready for a Christmas delivery.

I gave myself several pats on the back on my way home. My first success was that Tooey had successfully sneaked out of the freezer without being caught again. Secondly, Tooey was in good enough shape to be mounted. And thirdly, here it was only July and I had my wife’s Christmas present selected. Like they say, it didn’t get any better than this.

I should have known better. The fish in the freezer that had become a thorn in our marital side was suddenly found missing just two days later. So much for surprises. I had to confess that I took her fish, but had not disposed of it. I did not go into detail, but she must have known what was going on. After all, how many things can you do with a fish that has been dead and frozen stiff for eighteen years?

My stuffed fish gambit also failed to relieve my Christmas shopping stress. About a month before Christmas, I started calling the taxidermist to make sure that Tooey would be ready in time. The taxidermist continually stated that he was sure it would be, but he could never remember who I was or what I had brought in to have done. Finally, two days before Christmas, I called and was told that Tooey would be ready that afternoon. To complete the stomach-acid scenario, a freezing rainstorm was moving in.

The kids and I managed to make the pick-up without incident. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Tooey in all his stiff and shiny mounted glory. Before we left, I confessed to the taxidermist that Tooey had really been in the freezer for eighteen years, not the two years that he had guessed earlier.

Tooey was certainly not the biggest fish the taxidermist had ever stuffed, but I could tell from the look on his face that I was the biggest procrastinator ever to set foot in his shop.


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