I grew up on catfish... Wait, no, that makes it sound like it was the only thing I ever ate. Let me try that again:
When I was a kid, to say that we were having fish meant that we were having catfish. It was the only kind of fish we ever had (other than the rare trip to Long John Silver's). But we didn't buy it (and, now, I'm wondering why anyone would ever buy catfish), because to say that we were having fish meant that we were going fishing. And I don't mean a few of us, either.
No, when we went fishing, it was everyone. Everyone includes my parents and brother, my grandparents, several uncles and aunts of various sorts, and at least a cousin or two. It was a family event. And, really, you had to have a lot of people, because all of those people were going to be there to eat the fish no matter how many people went fishing, so the only way to make sure there was enough fish was for everyone to go fishing. However, in actuality, the women mostly didn't fish. I suppose they went along because it was an event. That and they made sandwiches and stuff for everyone.
Often, these trips were "caused" by me and, possibly, a cousin or two asking my grandfather to take us fishing. We loved it when he took us fishing, because, no matter how many people were along on the trip, it was my grandfather taking us fishing. The rest of the people were... superfluous. (Except for that time I caught this huge fish and one of my uncles knocked it back into the water. You can't be merely superfluous when you cause someone to lose such a big fish.)
After the fishing trips, we'd bring the fish back to the farm and the men would sit around and clean the fish. It was always catfish except for the very occasional perch, which we called sunfish, because no one liked cleaning them except my Uncle Fred (scaling a fish is much different than skinning a fish), so those got thrown back unless he was with us.
It was my grandfather that taught me how to fish. How to bait a hook (and where to find said bait). How to hook a fish (turn a nibble into a caught fish). How to take the fish off of the hook (which is not an easy task with a catfish (for those of you who have never done it)). How to clean a fish, both catfish and scaled fish (but, yeah, I know why no one liked doing it, because you get scales all over you). He taught me how to do all of it up to the cooking part. I had the eating part all worked out on my own, and I figured out the cooking part later.
When I got to be a teenager and we no longer did those huge fishing trips and it was just my nuclear family that would go fishing (basically, whenever my mom would decide that she felt like having fish), I was the one that had to do all the maintenance stuff, meaning that I was the hook baiter and fish remover. Yeah, I hated those trips, because I never actually got to do any fishing. I got plenty of bites, but they were all from mosquitoes, and, when all you get from a fishing trip is mosquito bites, it's just not any fun. Why was I the hook baiter and fish remover? Because no one in my family would do those things. I mean, one time when I was doing something else and my dad caught a fish, I turned around to find him stepping on the fish (so that he wouldn't have to touch it) while trying to get the hook out of its mouth with a pair of pliers. I started finding other things to do rather than go fishing, so the catfish eating dwindled away.
But, see, I grew up liking, even loving, catfish. And I didn't have to give you all of that background, but I wanted you to have the context of my relationship with catfish. In my mind, it's associated, mostly, with these great family fishing trips with my grandfather and him teaching me how to do all the stuff. He gave me my first fillet knife and skinners one year when I was probably around 9 or 10, and I thought that was one of the greatest presents ever.
But we don't do the whole catfish thing out here in CA. It's just not a thing here the way it is in the south. Out here it's salmon and, well, I don't really know, because I lost any inclination I had for fishing when my grandfather died, so it's not a thing we do. I mean, not a thing my family does. I know plenty of people that take off to fish for salmon or do ocean fishing. I don't know anyone that does catfishing.
On Friday nights, we do special family dinner night. Special dinners are things that take more time or are more elaborate than we can do on a night when people have to get up early the following morning. Every so often, I'll do a fried fish night, but those are more rare than even the normal special dinner nights, because it takes a lot of time to prep and fry everything. Like the onion rings. Because, according to everyone that's had them, I make the best onion rings ever. And fried mushrooms, too. But I digress. So... fried fish, which is generally cod.
Last week I was out buying fish because were going to have our first fried fish night in... I don't know, months, at least. So I was picking up the cod, and there in the display case with the fish was catfish. Catfish. Oh, man, I hadn't had catfish in so long. I mean, I've lived in California for a long time, and I think I'd only had it once before since I moved out here. I love catfish. My kids should try it, right? My kids that don't actually like fish that much to begin with, and I was thinking they should try catfish of all things, but I'm not really to that part yet. I bought some of the catfish. I love catfish.
Friday night came. I mixed up the batter. I sliced up a couple of onions. I chopped the mushrooms down to appropriate sizes (because they hadn't had anything of an appropriate size at the store). I started frying those up. Everyone was eating onions rings voraciously. My wife and I were eating the mushrooms. I got out the fish, the cod, and sliced it up and started frying that up. People started eating the cod. I pulled out the catfish...
I pulled out the catfish and fried up a few pieces, nuggets, because I was eager to pop one into my mouth. Long time since catfish. I love catfish. I was... actually excited, I think. I toss the first couple of pieces onto the plate to cool. Before it was quite cool enough, I popped one into my mouth...
And, man, it was like eating a mud ball. And, yeah, I know what dirt tastes like. I was a kid that played in a lot of dirt. Not that I ever actually on purpose ate any, but, you know, it gets in your mouth. And that piece of catfish was the equivalent of a handful of dirt down at the farm when I was a kid.
It must have been a mistake. Just a bad piece, right? Right...
So I got another piece and... dirt! OH MY GOSH! Catfish tastes like dirt! Then I thought back to the previous time I'd had catfish, the last time, years before, when I thought "I love catfish; I should get some for everyone to try," and it had tasted like dirt, too, and no one else liked it or would eat any of it. Just like this time. And I realized: I had grown up liking the taste of... dirt. [And, see, when I was growing up, I'd heard people say they didn't like catfish for that very reason, but I'd always dismissed them as not knowing what they were talking about.]
But that's what growing up is for. I also grew up drinking only soda, but I can't stand the stuff, now, after being off of it for the last five years or so. The sweet of it is just too much for me. And I grew up liking some shows (mostly cartoons) that I look back now and wonder what I was thinking when I was 15 and watching G. I. Joe every day after school. And there have been books and/or authors that have been that way for me, too. All of it dirt.
There are a few things, I suppose, that you could come away with from this, some of which I've talked about before (like, just, outgrowing things), but it would take too much time, at this point, to talk about all of those things. Instead, I will just mention this one thing:
Sometimes, you have to get away from something long enough to realize that it was dirt all along. Some things that we think are good are only good because we've never experienced anything else. But, when we go on to new things, hopefully better things, we can later recognize that that thing we used to love was really just dirt and we'd only loved that thing because it was the only thing we'd ever had. Which is why we need to always be broadening our experiences. Trying new things. Reading new books.
And, on the book note, I suppose that's why it bothers me when I see people saying things like, "I only read YA" like it's a good thing and, worse, like that makes them better than people who read a variety of types of books. What I want to say to that is that you're eating catfish. [Which is not to say that all YA is dirt.] Or, maybe, baby food. I get that you grew up reading YA and you love YA, but, really, you're 30 now; branch out a little bit. Seriously. You might discover that some of that YA you always thought was so yummy is really just a mud pie.