One of my maternal uncles and his wife recently moved into a new house nearby and, not too long ago, some of us went over to check it out and say welcome to the neighborhood. The previous owners had left quite a few things behind, and as we got the grand tour, one of the items we all stopped to have a conversation about was a mobile hanging on the ceiling in one of the rooms. Its theme seemed to be “marine life,” and the sight of several pufferfish dangling from the piece sparked a memory for my uncle (and several jokes about not eating fugu fish from the rest of us!).
For a time in his teenage years, my uncle lived with his paternal grandmother, my great-grandmother Katherine (Shepherd) Sharpe, in the Bronx in New York City. One of the ways they passed time together was to go fishing, and he remembers on several occasions accidentally catching pufferfish.
If you’ve never heard of pufferfish (also known as blowfish) before, let me be the first to tell you that you do not want to mess with them! You’re not in much danger from their ability to, as National Geographic puts it, “quickly ingest huge amounts of water (and even air when necessary) to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size.” Well, unless you try to grab one of the ones with spines. What you are in danger from - particularly if you decide to try and eat one - is the deadly toxin that they carry, tetrodotoxin. According to National Geographic, this toxin is “up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide [and] There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, AND (emphasis mine) there is no known antidote.”
Why did we joke about fugu fish, then? This is the name for pufferfish in Japan, where it is eaten as daring (and occasionally deadly) delicacy.
Anywho, my uncle remembers sometimes catching these Underwater Orbs of Lethal Legend while out with his grandma. He was NOT ALLOWED TO GET CLOSE TO THEM. As he remembered it, Great-Grandma Katherine would instead step on the fish and very carefully remove the hook, or she would just give the hook up for lost and simply cut the line, letting the fish fall back into the water.
Katherine: 1. Bloated Ball of Swimming Poison: 0.
In honor of their fishing escapades, and in lieu of photos of the two of them on the water together, I share with you these photos of Katherine out on a fishing trip, date and location unknown.