As a protestant kid growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, I never gave fish fries a thought. I'm not even sure they had them in my formative days in the 1950s and 1960s. The closest I came to Catholicism in those days was playing baseball at Holy Family school. There was the one time Billy Nettles inadvertently boiled a couple of hot dogs on a Friday, drawing the wrath of his devout Italian grandmother who, rather than toss them, gave them to me. I guess there also was some muttering around my Presbyterian church about the possibility of a Catholic (John F. Kennedy) actually turning the White House into something akin to a Vatican West, but I never really understood that line of logic.
Over the years, I've come to appreciate the best that all religions have to offer. Respect and compassion for others would be at the top of the list. Hating and killing others would be at the bottom. Somewhere in the middle would be fish fries, a Catholic Lenten ritual I've come to embrace the past few years.
In the past couple of years, my wife, Linda, and I have ventured beyond Linda's home parish, St. Pius in Urbandale, Iowa, to sample other parish fish fries. We've been to St. Joseph, the Basilica of St. John, St. Mary's, St. Francis and St. Boniface so far and plan to visit more. The fish fry season is short and comes at a time when weather can be problematic in our part of the country. We thought we were being quite innovative and adventurous when we decided to give fish fry bingo a whirl. Wrong and wrong.
One of the fringe benefits of entering the fish fry culture is that, much like traveling by Amtrak, you usually find yourself dining with strangers. For homebodies like us, you'd think that might be daunting but the truth is that we almost always find ourselves among interesting people who broaden our knowledge of our community. More often than not we've found ourselves among others who are also parish fish fry jumpers. This enables us to compare notes. For instance we've heard that Altoona, Ankeny and Granger have pretty good fish fries and St. Teresa doesn't have a fish fry but touts its Lenten potato bar.
We've found that most fish fries are basically the same, though a few have special twists in an effort to lure customers in what is basically a six-week season. St. Joseph has hushpuppies. St. Boniface has a salad bar and pasta and will throw a few shrimp your way if you ask. One southside church has fish tacos (for an additional fee), several sell wine and/or beer and St. Francis has $1 desserts delivered tableside by Boy Scouts.
Fish fries are so much fun that there's actually a Lenten Fish Fry Club in Des Moines that makes the rounds en masse. The picture with this post comes from a Facebook post by a friend, John Naughton, who's a club member. Linda and I haven't joined the club yet (I hear they're out of buttons). Maybe next year.
Redundancy warning alert: Rise up. Really, do you think there's any other way to rise? While you're at it, you might want to think twice before writing that something is "changed forever." Need I remind you that forever is a very, very long time.
Another sign that we're all f***ed: That recent Kim Kardashian nude selfie. Did you look? Tsk, tsk.
There's still hope: Listen to this, one of my all-time faves:
Larry Lehmer is an author, former newspaper editor and keen observer of contemporary American life. He's also prone to curmudgeonry.