There’s an eel in my bathtub

4 May

Okay, so this isn’t my bathtub. But it is a mess of eels, so let’s just start there.

Specifically, this is a pot filled with Aunt Anna’s stewed eel, the kind she often (though, sadly, not always) prepares for Christmas Eve dinner. There are tomatoes and onions and lots and lots of whole olives in Anna’s stewed eel, but the best part about it is that only a few of us at the table will eat any of it. That means more eel for, well, me.

My mother cooked eel a lot when I was a boy. The men in the neighborhood who used to go fishing in Jamaica Bay often returned home with lots of live eels in their buckets. Mom being a pretty well-known user of the species the men often offered their eels to her as gifts.

Be patient. The bathtub thing is coming up soon, I promise.

Anyway, my mother worked all day. Either she was behind the counter or in the kitchen of our fountain service store, or hunched over a Singer doing piecework for the ladies’ garment factory blocks away. Evenings were the time for coping with her live eels, not afternoons when they would always be left for her.

These were not tiny eels, by the way; often they were in the three-feet-in-length range if memory serves. Mom being the sensitive type leaving the poor live eels crammed into little five-gallon buckets all day long didn’t sit too well, and so, in the eels went to a bathtub filled with plenty of fresh water for them to swim around in.

Get the picture?

It is important to mention that this bathtub mom so generously offered as an eel pond, for entire afternoons on end, was the only bathtub in the only bathroom of the apartment that she shared with her husband and three young sons.

I do not know when my brothers were first introduced to our mother’s eel husbandry, but me? Clear as day, this memory of mine.

It was a very hot Saturday afternoon one summer and I had just gotten home from playing league baseball up in Highland Park. The walk home was around a mile, which was brutal wearing an entire baseball uniform, and so stripping down and jumping into a cool shower was all that my ten-year-old brain could wrap itself around.

Nobody was home when I arrived and so I immediately made a beeline for the bathroom. Uncle Joe had recently completed a fancy upgrade to our bathtub, two sliding glass doors to replace a simple shower rod. The glass was frosted, which I now assume was to allow for privacy (five people, one small bathroom, remember?).

I slid open the frosted-glass door and there they were: four or five very large and very alive black eels. Swimming around in the place I was supposed to be cooling and cleaning off in the dead of summer. I didn’t know what exactly they were at the time, of course; I was too busy slamming the glass door shut so that they couldn’t leap out from their pond and go all Creature Feature on me.

A cool, cleansing post-baseball shower was not in the cards for me that day, at least not until mom got home and attended to her guests.

As it happens, I missed out on many more post-ballgame showers throughout my childhood. Mom’s eels-in-the-bathtub holding strategy worked pretty well, I guess, because she never saw reason to change it.

Years later I married a woman who enjoys eating eel, especially Aunt Anna’s, as much as I do.

She did make me promise to never allow a single live eel to swim in our home. Ever.

And, so far, I have obliged.

9 Responses to “There’s an eel in my bathtub”

  1. Cliff Niersbach May 4, 2022 at 9:56 pm #

    I was with you til “eel” šŸ˜‰

  2. Claudia Risbara May 4, 2022 at 10:00 pm #

    Loved the story from childhood.

  3. cfrolio May 4, 2022 at 10:00 pm #

    Great story! Is there anywhere in Maine to buy eel?

  4. Linda May 4, 2022 at 10:42 pm #

    There were two places in this area where we use to catch tons of big eels, one in the Cousens River near the Muddy Rudder, 95 wasnā€™t there then, the other up near the chicken factory on the Royal River. We used a very large eel bob on a pole and we filled old pillow cases with the catch, you could use steel wool to pick them up. So much fun and they were cooked many different ways, even pickled in gallon jars.delish

  5. alexafoster1 May 4, 2022 at 10:48 pm #

    Loved your bathtub and eel story Ralph!

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. joesentme May 4, 2022 at 11:43 pm #

    Got it!

  7. Augusta Umanski May 5, 2022 at 11:28 am #

    At least you never suffered the fate of Lord Randall in the Scottish ballad, who was poisoned with eels by his sweetheart.

  8. Matt May 6, 2022 at 12:54 am #

    Thanks for the story! Not the easiest thing in the world to skin and clean.

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