ONCE YOUR KIDS learn to drive, you can never be sure who or what will appear in your house on the morning after a social outing.
Usually, our overnight guests turn out to be friends of our kids. But the other morning I came down to the kitchen and was surprised to see that our 18-year-old son had returned home from a night of revelry with a fish. And a fine-looking fish it was.
In the refrigerator, a rockfish, or striped bass, was stretched out on the top shelf. It was a big fellow, about 3 feet long.
As I eyed the unexpected guest, I wondered how it ended up coming home with a teen-ager. Was it a door prize at a dance club? A give-away at the movies? A consolation prize at a wrestling tournament?
I got the answer around noon when the kid emerged from his bedroom. He had been visiting a friend, Ben Weisheit, in Monkton. Ben's dad, Bowen Jr., had just returned from a fishing expedition off Ocean City, at a spot called Little Gull shoal, with several large fish, and had offered one to my son. He accepted.
I was proud of him. He had shown excellent judgment both in friends and fish. As a parent, you always worry about what kind of people your kids will hang out with. When they hang out with people who give you fresh rockfish, you feel that you have brought them up right.
Moreover, my son had the good sense to say, "Yes," to the gift fish and to chauffeur it home. He did choose to put the fish in the passenger seat of the car -- I would have preferred that it ride in the trunk -- but the fish was well-wrapped and left no lingering odor or stain on the upholstery.
Like many parents, I have spent plenty of time cleaning up messes that my kids made. But as I began to fillet the rockfish, I felt that I was finally beginning to enjoy a few benefits of being a parent.
While I cleaned the fish, I considered cooking methods. The fish was so fresh that I didn't want to cover it with a heavy sauce, which might block the flavor. Like a natural beauty that doesn't need cosmetics to look good, this rockfish didn't need any culinary tricks to taste good. So I did very little.
I simply sprinkled a little salt on the fillet, brushed it with a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice, then broiled it, about 4 inches away from the heating element, until the flesh showed no traces of pink. It took about 20 to 30 minutes.
The rockfish was remarkable, displaying a magnificent marriage of moisture and sweet flavor that is unique to fresh, wild rock. Some people tell me that sea bass has a better flavor than wild rock, but I am yet to be convinced.
A few days after the rockfish feast, a neighbor, Bob Catzen, rang our doorbell. He was bearing glad tidings and two ducks.
The ducks were gifts to my wife, who, at a party had listened to the tale of how he had shot the ducks during a recent Eastern Shore hunting expedition. My wife had told him that when she was a girl, she had gone hunting with her father in the fields of western Kansas.
Sensing that they were "birds of a feather," the neighbor gave her a couple of his recently bagged birds.
Because the beginning of the new year is traditionally a time for reflection, these gifts made me evaluate my opinion of my family.
They may give me grief from time to time. But if through their good graces, gifts of fresh fish and wild duck continue to show up in the kitchen, I guess I will keep them around the house for another year.