It was by a fortuitous quirk of circumstance I found the old grill. One corner protruded from mud and leaves, and I saw this when I left the johnboat to cast for bream along the bank of the oxbow lake.
I passed by it at first, but after catching a couple of big bluegills, I headed back to the boat so I could put the fish in a basket, and on the way, I pulled the rusty, bent-up piece of metal from the muck in which it had been buried, apparently, for quite some time.
“Whatcha got?” my friend, Lewis, asked as I walked up.
“Looks like a wire shelf out of a refrigerator,” I said. “I figure it’ll come in handy when we cook these fish later. It’ll make a good place to set the skillet over the fire.”
“We have plenty of fish already,” said Jack, who was landing a fat black bluegill. “I’m starving, too. What do you say we get a fire going and start cooking now?”
Lewis and I concurred.
Finding the grill might not have been unusual elsewhere. But we were fishing a little cypress lake far off the beaten path. The nearest paved road with more than three miles distant. Few people ever fished there.
One had, though, and that person probably camped by the lake and had brought the makeshift grill to cook on. Rather than dirty his other possessions with the sooty grid when he went home, he just left the grill, thinking someone else might find use for it.
While Lewis gathered firewood, Jack and I found a few big rocks for a fire ring and grill rest. Then I got the fire going while Lewis cleaned fish and Jack peeled potatoes and onions.
“How many should I clean?” Lew asked. “We have 36 in the basket.”
“I can eat a dozen by myself,” I replied.
“And I can eat another dozen,” said Jack.
“Three dozen it is then,” said Lew.
We had brought everything needed for this occasion: a cast-iron skillet, cooking oil, seasoned corn meal, a spatula, paper plates, eating utensils … everything but a grill to set the skillet on, which Providence generously provided.
The pan-dressed bluegills soon were sizzling in the hot oil alongside a pile of taters and onions. By the time the food was ready, the aroma had us salivating like Pavlov’s dog. Lew complained I was drooling in the skillet.
Had all the great chefs of the world come together to collaborate on the most delicious meal ever prepared, they could not have created a dish more delectable. And certainly, no restaurant could compare when it came to ambience.
Sitting in the shade of 500-year-old cypress trees, we stuffed ourselves while enjoying nature’s dinner theater. Whip-poor-wills serenaded us. Fish danced on the lake’s mirrored surface. Frogs sang. A barred owl took the stage. Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you?
“Doesn’t get no better’n this,” Jack said.
Lew and I, mouths stuffed, nodded in agreement.