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  • The first time I gutted a fish I was 12. We were in the first floor apartment of the pink Four Decker on 13th street in Ocean City. I had caught the fish that morning in the bay. My grandmother had been gutting them deftly one after another. She was like that. One day she would be dressed in a fancy suit with a pillbox hat and the next down and dirty gutting fish, drinking a cold Schlitz and listening to the Orioles play on the radio.

    My grandmother was my hero. She would get that focused look - pursing her lips - and dig in to whatever needed cleaning up next. She liked things done right and did them that way. She did not suffer fools or even mere mortals gladly and some of that rubbed off on me. She baked the most beautiful layer cakes from scratch but was thrilled when cake mixes made her life easier. I prefer mixes myself. She was pleased to have lived from the Model T to men going to the Moon. The excitements of life made her eyes light up. Change did not scare her much. I never saw her undone.

    Her quest for aesthetic perfection meant she did not like interference and we were not as children living with her allowed to be included significantly in the making of things. We were too messy for her. She went around behind us when we were small with a Pledge loaded dust cloth wiping our ubiquitous prints from every surface. Did I mention she had a lot of energy?

    So when she let me gut my fish it was a big moment. I was given instruction* on how to move the knife carefully along the belly seam first and cut the guts away from the meat, not spilling the contents of the intestines. I loved it. I wanted more.

    *I should mention here that it was my grandfather who patiently coached me through the gutting. He also taught me to drive our '56 Chevy after my mom gave up.
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