Yo’ Jus’n Cain’ Get No Good Conch Frittahs Nor’ a Marathon

“That when he took tho’ yankees outa Bost’n ovah the flats. T’eya nevvuh see a Tarpon afore. T’eya sure gots theya fill ‘hat day.” He have a short laugh, shaking his head slightly at the memory.

“Watched ‘hat big fat fella hook un’ with the flats rigd fly rod tem yankees a fon’ of. We a us’n those blue runnas, like the ones we jigg up off the #9 marker over near Shark key t’otha day. Mighty fine bait tey wus, too.” He put the boat in neutral and turned the engine off. Stillness settled into the area. Tiny waves lapped against the hull, barely audible. The boat slowed almost to a standstill at the edge of the flats, channel on one side, water shallowing off the port quarter until it reached the dark mangroves on what was becoming solid ground. It was the end of the flood tide.

“Well t’is ol’ Tarpon took a hol’ t’at bait and lit off like Charles ‘n you when y’all tried a sneak off wit’ the last o’ the Key Lime Pie my missus had saved up for Saturday.” He laughed, shaking his head. “I had jus’ warn’ that yankee fella too h’bout hol’n the rod wen ta fish strike. He was a hol’n it a good’n tight. Lucky for him, too.” He continued on. “Well he a rear’d back so har’ to set the hook, almos’ broke da line doin’ it.”

“But he dun’ good, sett’n that hook.” The old man continued. “Up jump’ one’a da fines’ Tarpon we see ‘n three, fou’a years. Right schrait outta da water, up on hisa tail. My, my what a purty sight. An’ dance? My could tat fella dance.” The old man said.

“Up there Jimbo, ‘tat the one ya got yo’ eye on?”

An osprey gave a cry as it took flight. Jimbo nodded his head as he pulled the bail back to let out a bit more line to lower the bait off the rod tip. He took another look forward, and to port, towards the dark shadows of the mangroves. Gett’n about that time, he thought to himself.

The old man watched as the younger man held his rod upright, then in one quick, graceful snap, whipped the rod back, then forward. The line peeled off as the bait flew out, landing with a small splash a few feet ahead of the fins. They both watched as they moved steadily, then stopped and turned towards the splash. The older man nodded his head in satisfaction.

” ‘hat yankee dun list’n good ‘hen I tol’ him leave a drag ‘lone. He got all a tired out fight’n that fish, a good ‘our or so. Broughts him righ’ up the boat. Tey ‘as all setta moun’ um too, ’til ya paw tole ’em what Doc Johnson a charge ‘fore it. Settled for some pictures an let ‘er go back so hees can get bigga for nex’ year.”

” ‘hat was ovah ta flats a nor’ Marathon, up by ta hole my boy Charles ‘n you marked with a pole a cuppa seasons back. Ya r’mbah?” The man asked.

Jimbo nodded. “That’s back up where those boys from Miami tore a prop off a Proline on a coral head at low tide. Me ‘n Charles towed ’em back about five miles.” He gave a little laugh. “That was after we finished pulling up the lobster outta that hole. Gave us a couple twenties for gas and trouble.”

Darkness was fleeing the red fire in East as the dawn broke.

“How’d you an’ Pa manage to get that boat back outta the flats?” he asked. “You know she draws too much water to be back up past that marker at low tide.”

The old black man chuckled. “I ain’t tol’ ya all my secrets Jimbo. You an’ Charles think ya know tease waters, ‘ut I gots a few yeara on’ya both.” he said with a knowing smile. “You know ‘hat pole we’un put up agin las yeah? Ta one neah ‘hat little hole?”

“Yes” said Jimbo. “There’s a little channel, three or four feet deep at low tide, just towards that mangrove key, the one with the two palms in the middle. It runs a few hundred yards or so East-South East before turning South, almost in a circle, and running back onto the flats. Can’t go that way, other than to go to a couple a good holes for grouper and lobster.”

“Yup, yu a learn’n. Followed that ’bout fo’ a hunded yards o’ so, cross between ‘hem coral head, the one ‘hat got ‘hat small wood boat sunk beside it. Turn due East jus’ pass that boa’. Thera ‘notha little cut thera. Ya can run foa or maybe five hunded yards, ‘hen yo be in the clear channel, with deep water. Take ‘hat way otta ‘here, even ah low tide.” The old man said. Nodding in satisfaction as he passed on another secret of the waters.

“Took ‘hat way back with them yankees. We pulled up ta the dock jus’n the navy flew by. Made them fellas real happy like. ‘Hats when they spring for beer an lunch. ‘hat be ‘h Cap’n Franks’s place.” He said, glancing up at the sky and her fading stars.

“T’em yankees a ‘cided to orda up a heap’a conch frittas.” The old man shook his head. “That a good place fo’ snapper ‘n shrimp; groupa too. But Cap’n Frank sure can’t make no conch frittah’s. More like a fried biskit whit’a too much peppa. Closes’ a conch evah gotta one a duh Cap’ns frittah’s was Cuba. He wouldn’ know what a conch frittah was even if ya ma made them. An’ her’s are mighty fine, too.”

Jimbo smiled. “I know.”

Overhead they heard the roar of an approaching jet. A fin surged forward. The line jerked the rod tip down. Jimbo smiled for just a moment, then jerked the rod up and back to set the hook. The line spooled out. The ‘reeeeee’ of the spindle was drown out by the jet overhead as it flashed by, wings cocked perpendicular to the water as the pilot played above the boats. It straightened out, the glow of the afterburners visible as the plane went vertical and climbed for altitude before heading for home. “Vroooom boooom” echoed across the waters. Just in time, Jimbo thought, just in time.

A flurry of gulls took flight, cawing their displeasure. The other fins had disappeared.

The older man watched. The rod tip, still up, still tense. He knodded. He saw the younger man lower the rod, reeling as he did so. Then up again, reeling on the downward stroke. Again and again and again. He could see the fish fighting the pull, back and forth and out and down it struggled.

Another roar as another jet swept past, 200 feet above the water. Splash! The snook broke the surface near the marker pole. Nearer and nearer it came as it struggled.

The old man nodded his head in satisfaction as he watched. Up went the rod, crick crick crick the reel as it went down. He glanced up and saw the red glow of the jet engines fading in the distance, the morning sun was fully above the waterline now, a red ball of fire low in the sky.

His hand reached down and turned the key. “Chunk. Grrrr rrrr brummmmm” as the Evenrude turned over. It purred at idle. He glanced back, checked, yep, good water flow. He shifted the engine into gear, slowly backing the boat away from the managroves, back away from the shoal and the marker pole.

Jimbo stood in the bow. Rod tip up. “Might need the net for this one.” He called back. The engine went silent again as the old man eased her into neutral and turned it off. Stepping to the Starboard side he pulled the long handled net out of the rack against the gunnel. “You bring’n him over ta port side, Jimbo?” He asked.

“Ya. I think he’s tired out now.” Jimbo took a couple steps to the left, guiding the fish towards the waiting net. “He’s gotta be 33, 34 inches”

“First light of day, first fish of the season. Susie’d like that kind of rhyme.”

The old man smiled. “Susie that cheerleader you ah been see’n all through school?” He asked. Already knows the answer to that, he thought to himself.

Jimbo gave a start. He stood up and squared his shoulders as he watched the older man bring the fish aboard, deftly removing the hook from its mouth. “Yes sir. She loves poetry, didn’t realize I spoke out loud. She loves mom’s cooking too, especially her conch fritters.” He added with a wry smile.

The old man chuckled to himself as he put the fish in the cooler and walked back to the center console. He fired up the engine, putting the boat into motion.

“Charles is coming over tonight. He’s brining a couple of conchs he cleaned up yesterday to go with what we caught here. You and your wife are welcome to join us all. I invited Susie and her parents over, too.”Jimbo said, and in a lower voice continued. “Got a question to ask her father tonight.”

The old man warmed inside. ’bout time, he thought. Heck e’vbody in the keys been wonder’n what you two been wait’n on, he thought to himself.

“Her’n, take the wheel an ‘ead us back. I wanna take anotha look at the dinnah the good Lord and your fish’n rod dun’ provide us” the old man said, stepping to the side to let Jimbo take charge of the boat. “I’ll see if ta missus can russtle up some ‘hat Key Lime Pie fo’ dessert.”

Jimbo watched as the the older man walked aft. The young man eased the throttle forward, the boat accerated, moving into the wider channel off the flats, turning East. A new noise grew as they headed homewards. A steady hum with intermittent thumping sounds, as cars crossed the bridge. A growing stream heading South for Key West, ferrying their masters to work, and to school, and to play.

He looked across the water and saw that the light of the sun had shattered the darkness with the dawn of the new day. The waves sparkled in brightening morning, glittering like the reflections off a thousand pendalogues. Soon, he thought, soon. A smile came to his face as the boat carried them towards shore, and home, and a new beginning.

… story by Fred

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33 Responses to Yo’ Jus’n Cain’ Get No Good Conch Frittahs Nor’ a Marathon

  1. walrus says:

    Delightful Fred! Brings back some of my own memories.

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    That was wonderful, I was truly transported to your little world. It was a joy to read and the timing is impeccable. There is much darkness about these days and it is no small thing to be able to describe fishing, friendship and a coming dawn in such beautiful terms. If you are not published you oughta be. Thanks for sharing a part of your soul, Fred.

    • Fred says:

      Barbara Ann,

      Thanks. I almost called that #9 marker the ‘chanel #5 marker’, wondering if anyone would notice; but then thought that might be a bit too much. Could probably write a piece off that though. You know a man can get in a heap’o trouble with chanel #5. Fun trouble though.

  3. Pat Lang says:

    Fred

    Very nice. What would you call the dialect or accent of the old Black man? It sounds a bit like a family of Black farmers I knew when I was younger. They had about 200 acres and had farmed it since it was willed to them by a White man who had owned the ancestors of the family. They made wonderful hams and grew lovely vegetables that they sold at a stand on the state road. Used to fish with them on their property.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Fred
      I particularly liked the thought that Jimbo was going to ask the girls father for his blessing.

      • Fred says:

        Pat,

        That’s the Old Domion upbringing. Old Florida, whats left of it, has the same ethic.

        On the dialect I should have asked your advice. Part Northern Neck, where I spent my summers as a young boy. The old man’s mostly the man that tought me about blue crabs. He worked in a crab house next to Mr. Boyce’s marina in Coles point. I thought he was ancient, though he was probably all of 40, which is ancient when you’re only 7 or 8. It has all passed into memory now.

        The rest is mostly what I remember of Frankie Mae, who was a dear friend of the family for many years. She was raised in Jacksonville and Palatka back in the ’40s and ’50s. You can still find that deep Southern drawl in Baker County, just outside Jacksonville today. She lived deep in the Everglades, close to Ochopee, for many years after. My father befriended her when the park service bought up the land that is now the Big Cypress National Preserve. Her brothers lived in the upper keys.

        I wasn’t quite sure how to put the drawl in there. It was a cross between “chat” and ” ‘hat” where the “T” is drawn out, those sometimes left out. Decided to go with what I had as I thought the readers might not understand my meaning. Hopefully I kept them all in character.

  4. TTG says:

    Fred,

    That was fantastic. You’re a talented story writer. This one should be in print, perhaps in some Florida magazine. I was also impressed by your handling of the dialect. Not familiar with that one at all. I did have several neighbors here from the Chesapeake islands. They had an Elizabethan lilt to their speech that was musical.

  5. Linda says:

    Thank you This was delightful

  6. JK/AR says:

    Thanks Fred, felt transported back some.

  7. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Thanks, Fred. I paused in midchore binge to read this wonderfully crafted story. Drawing upon deeply-lived memories as you did keeps you attuned to the ongoing richness of life outspread before you every day, filled with new memories not only for you, but also for those with whom you share those times. You, in turn, will live on in the memories of those younger souls.

  8. LeaNder says:

    Fred:
    Nor’ a Marathon

    Any of the deep water fish caught around Marathon? More complicated?

    Otherwise appreciated. 😉

    • Fred says:

      LeaNder,

      The Gulf Stream is due East; it’s about 15 minutes to deap water. The flats are West. The fishing varies depending on the season and which part of the keys you are in. The fishing is probably better out of Marathon now as it is less touristy. Key West is another 50 miles South. The maps at the link below might give you a better idea of the waters. The numbers are depth in feet.

      https://www.nauticalchartsonline.com/chart/zoom?chart=11446

      • LeaNder says:

        Your old man’s choice would be conch, though? Because he loves how his wife serves it? But better than not catching one, anything else will do?

        Be well. If I completely misunderstood your old man, spare me the disappointment, will you?

        • TTG says:

          LeaNder,

          Conch are mollusks. They don’t need to be caught, just gathered like mushrooms. Conch fritters are far more than battered and fried pieces of conch as the Colonel’s linked recipe shows. I know shrimp can be substituted in the fritter recipe. Not the same, but quite similar.

          • Pat Lang says:

            TTG
            I don’t think she knew what conch, conch fritters are or where or what Marathon is. So, I he’ped her.

          • Fred says:

            TTG,

            “I know shrimp can be substituted in the fritter recipe.”

            I ‘knows’ a gentleman in the Northern Neck who woulda died of laughter if you said you could use green beans in corn fritters,” they kinda da same, bein’ thesa both vegitables.” Just josh’n. Never heard of shrimp fritters before, though there are plenty of substitutes out there. BTW good, real, Key Lime Pie, made with real Key Limes, is hard to come by.

          • TTG says:

            Yeah Fred, I guess that would make them shrimp fritters rather than faux conch fritters. Shrimp we have plenty of, but conch is a lot harder to come by. BTW, where do you guys get conch for those fritters? I thought Florida put a ban on harvesting some species from the wild.

            We had a short lived seafood place locally that made a fantastic Key Lime pie. It was was an experimental restaurant from the Ruby Tuesdays chain called Marlin & Rays. Nothing fancy, but good food with a great bar and great prices. Their Key Lime pie used regular pie crust rather than graham cracker and had a lime infused whipped cream topping that really enhanced the pie filling. Probably weren’t authentic, but they were damned good. They started selling whole pies, they were so popular. Unfortunately Ruby Tuesday’s dropped the concept in less than a year. Too bad. Our place was doing gang buster business.

          • Fred says:

            TTG,

            We didn’t worry about that way back when, but I know they are regulated now. We used to clean up the shells and sell them to the tourists for a few bucks. That’s all become rather commercialized now. If what’s on the menu are actually conch they are probably from the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean. I’m waiting to see who puts Lionfish on the menu up around here. They’re an invasive species doing a lot of damage to the marine habitat. Open season and no limit for those. Good eating from what I hear.

          • Leith says:

            Still legal to take conch in North Carolina, 10/day with no size limit. But that’s Horse Conch, a different species from what they have further south.

          • LeaNder says:

            Conch are mollusks.

            Thanks, TTG, that I understood. The recipes were easy to find. But it’s kinda hard to figure out if any type of sea snails exist over here on any menu. Understand? …

            And from the little Fred lets us know, it’s hard to figure out the story’s larger context beyond Jimbo, Jimbo’s father, the old man and the sea.

            But thanks for the hint with the shrimps. 😉

          • Barbara Ann says:

            Fred

            So ‘catchin’ yur conch is one thing, but what I really wants to know is how you gets ‘im out the shell once you’ve caught ‘im. Do you lash the thing down, leave some bait nearby and knock it on the head when it tries to sneak out?

          • Fred says:

            Barbara Ann,

            I learned a trick from Tom Sawyer. Tell ever’body how much fun it is to clean’m. Thank my English teacher every time, too.

        • Pat Lang says:

          LeAnder

          The level of your misunderstanding and ignorance of American culture is impressive.

      • Artemesia says:

        So glad you mentioned hush puppies!
        I’ve been trying to remember the shoes Pat Boone advertised — “We can make ’em cheaper but we can’t make ’em dumber.”

        Your short story colorfully captured another important piece of the past. Thanks for keeping alive something so important.

  9. Leith says:

    Great story Fred! We used to get conch up in coastal Carolina. Never had them as fritters, but my neighbor used to cook up a dynamite conk chowder. It was neither cream-based nor tomato based, just had a murky broth. When asked he would never disclose his recipe, just chuckle and say the best seasoning was a bit of sand.

    • TTG says:

      The conch in Virginia waters are some type of whelk. There are a few watermen out of Tangier Island who catch them commercially using baited and set traps similar to crab pots. I had no idea they were caught that way. I’ve seen several comments that these whelk taste like ass. The Tangier Island waterman sell their whelk catch to Asia.

      • Leith says:

        The Horse Conch in NC are carnivores and will eat whelk as well as crab and clams. I would bet that much of the catch also goes to Asia. They are tasty but just the white meat, don’t eat the foot. They need tenderizing.

  10. TTG says:

    “And from the little Fred lets us know, it’s hard to figure out the story’s larger context”

    LeaNder, Fred skillfully provided us a glimpse into an American way of life. There’s no need to dig for deeper context. Just appreciate the story and enjoy the view.

  11. Artemesia says:

    “We used to clean up the [conch] shells and sell them to the tourists for a few bucks.”
    My Dad was a Machinist’s Mate on a landing craft carrier when he was injured off the coast of Palermo in Sept. 1943. (As near as I can figure, he was landing soldiers in Gen. Mark Clark’s march through Italy, ironic since my grandparents left Italy to keep their sons out of Mussolini’s army.)
    By Jan. 1944 he was transferred to a hospital in Key West, where his medical discharge papers were signed.
    I still have the Conch shell w/ lite inside & little plate, “Key West FL” that he bought for his Sweetheart, my Mom, whom he married some months later.

  12. Jose says:

    Fred, some Bahamians-Bahamian-Americans in Miami will disagree about “Nor a Marathon.”

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