I’m kind of a neat freak. I really like when my stuff is organized and looks nice. I’m not sure I was like that when I was kid but as I have gotten older (much older) I have really leaned into my tidying up habit. It’s nice but it also weighs on me. Because when my house is the cleanest and most organized it’s often because I have something that is on my mind and by cleaning up my surroundings, well, at least I’m controlling something.
Being married to a fisherman comes with a constant low-level stress. Fishermen do not work in a comfy office from 9-5 where the biggest threat to one’s physical health might be a paper cut or perhaps a fall. Fishermen lose fingers, get caught up in rope, fall overboard, have back injuries and sore shoulders, deal with driving rain and freezing cold weather, and go out day after day to do it again. (Often not taking care of whatever injury or illness they obtained the previous day. Duct tape and/or electric tape can mend a surprising number of injuries.) They also carry life rafts, EPIRBS*, and survival suits. Did you know that you have to write the name of the boat on the back of a survival suit? When I got my survival suit to have on the boat and Herman told me to write the boat name on the back, I did so gleefully,and then realized why and no longer felt gleeful. It was a reminder of what can actually happen when fishermen are out on the water.
On top of regulations, financial worries, low boat prices, high bait and fuel prices, and unpredictable landings, fishing families worry about weather, failing boat parts, and an unforgiving ocean. So, I clean up to cope.
Most families don’t refer to themselves as “banking families” or “lawyer families” or “retail families.” So, why fishing families? I think it’s because it takes all hands on deck to be a fishing family. We work together, play together, and make a life together. It’s a lifestyle we work hard to maintain, not because of any financial goal, but because we want to be able to spend time together and keep fishing, despite the uncertainties, dangers, and constant low-level stress. (BTW. It’s not always low-level. Sometimes times it’s wicked high-level.) So, my laundry is usually done and the drawers in my kitchen are neat and tidy.
When Herman and I first got married one evening the guy working down at the wharf called me and asked if I knew when Herman would be getting in from fishing. I didn’t know and asked why and apparently Herman was the last guy out that day. My heart sank and the level of anxiety I felt I still recall today. When a fisherman is late getting home, it’s usually because he’s chatting at the wharf, but on cold dark winter nights, that’s not where your mind first takes you. So, I reorganize my refrigerator and wipe down the counters for the 1000th time.
Fishing, and everything that goes with fishing, does not stay contained out in the Atlantic or Pacific or Gulf or wherever. It has tentacles that extend onto the shore into the coastal communities and the homes of fishing families and captures hearts and messes with the mind. So, I sort and organize and tidy up.
I just wanted you to know that.
*emergency position indicating radio beacon