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The Times
  • Gary Brown: Feed me fish sticks, hold the peas

  • Although Lent means no meat Fridays, mac and cheese and fish sticks did fine.

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  • If you grew up in a Catholic family in the 50s and 60s, when faithful members of the church couldn’t eat meat on any Friday, you became very fond of fish sticks.
    Later, you might never eat fish sticks again in your entire life. But, at the time, when this was your meal, one of your brothers was going to get stabbed with a fork if he tried to take the last fish stick left on the platter. Maybe it would be just a warning nick on the pinkie finger this time, but he’d think twice about how hungry he still was the next time siblings were trying to be selfish.
    Sometimes my father settled the situation with Solomon-like reasoning. He reached in and cut the fish stick in half. He gave one half to my mom and stuck what was left of the stick in his mouth.
    Then he just stared at his offspring. Any other questions?
    So, my brothers and I would run off to start squabbling over who would get to run the model train.
    Small Menu
    Fish sticks and french fries; we had that meal at least once a month at my house on Fridays. In fact, we had them so much I began to wonder why the fish in our fish bowl weren’t rectangular-shaped and breaded.
    Other Fridays we had tuna noodle casserole, which my mother ruined by adding peas. Oh, a kid could eat around the nasty little green globes, but he’d know they were in there. I remember more than once chewing a mouthful of tuna and noodles and suddenly realizing that, oh no, my tongue found something round. Noodles aren’t round.
    Mixed in there, too, were nights when we were served the dreaded salmon patties. The cruel thing is that they can be made to look kind of like hamburgers to children. They weren’t.
    Every now and then, when a cousin caught too many catfish, one would come our way on a Friday. And on special occasions, when we had guests, my mom would drag out some sort of fish filets. Occasionally I’d ask why, but only because I knew my dad liked answering, “Just for the halibut.”
    Alternatives Available
    The only things other than fish that I remember eating on Fridays were heart-stopping amounts of macaroni and cheese and skillets full of some unnamed dish that my mother made out of eggs, green peppers, onions, and fried potatoes.
    The interesting thing is that even as the years of meatless Fridays passed, I never felt deprived. Saturday was hamburger and french fries night. It would come soon enough.
    My job -- my faith, at the time -- on any given Friday was to feed as many peas and as much salmon to the dog under the table without getting caught. I still don’t think that was a sin.
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