Complementary Love

A conversation about smelts brings a wife and husband closer together.

  • BY: MARTHA WHITE
  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY: JENNIFER BAUM

My husband builds boats, while I construct sentences. He follows sports in the newspapers whereas I’m more apt to read the book reviews. We both enjoy crosswords, but we manage with just one paper because our strengths are with different clues. That we’re not much alike may be one of our greatest marital advantages.

In the dating world, sharing common interests may be touted as one of the top ten Golden Rules, right up there with “being yourself” — as if you had a choice of being someone else. The trouble is, if you share too much you start to become indistinguishable and then being yourself can quickly morph into becoming invisible. We’ve all seen couples who after a few years start to look or sound like one another, just before they start to resemble their dogs. Ever wonder why? Too much in common!

Conversation is never a problem for my husband and me, because we tend to see things from different angles. We’re mostly (but not always) in agreement about the big issues: child rearing, politics, money, religion. But on the small, daily bits that make up the fabric of our lives, it’s anybody’s guess.

Take last night, for instance. In the wee hours, after we’d gone to bed, we had an amusing back and forth about smelts. For the flatlanders among you, a smelt is a fish that grows to about six inches long, and in northern states like Maine or Michigan, it’s considered a welcome sign of spring. In the lakes regions, people often dip for them with buckets or nets, but, in Maine, it’s more common to pull them up on a hook through an ice-fishing hole. Fried with enough butter and flour or corn meal, they’re tasty little treats, even better if you put some pickled beets alongside. To my husband and others of his ilk, however, they’re more like Texas gold. Some people go a little bonkers over smelts.

I like a smelt about as much as I like a sardine, which is to say once in a while, and if it comes easily and I haven’t already made dinner. I’ve even been known to put a smelt on a hook to ice fish for something larger.

The idea that I might don winter clothes, drill a hole in the ice, and sit for a few hours dangling a shrimp as bait on the end of a hook just so I can get a smelt for dinner, however, comes about as naturally to me as dangling a piece of filet mignon on a BBQ fork so I could nab a hot dog. I like hot dogs, mind you, especially handed to me at a ball game, but I don’t go trolling for them.

So, last night, when my husband suddenly remembered that someone had left some smelts for him in his truck and that they were still there, I reminded him that we already had five smelts in the refrigerator, from his father, and that they were still there, too. I made what I thought was a sweetly constructive suggestion: it might be time to throw the five smelts out on the ice down at the harbor, to troll for bald eagles so we could watch the great birds soar. (Bald eagles love smelts and the birds are coming back, here in Maine.)

But, no. What my husband had in mind was that maybe one of us should go check the truck and bring the new smelts in, so we wouldn’t forget, again, that we had them. That made us both laugh, because we had found our common ground: that neither of us had any intention of getting out of our nice warm bed.

Today, I believe the new smelts have been driven back to the boatyard, probably forgotten again under the seat of the truck, and I know the old smelts are still in the refrigerator. Tomorrow, my husband will go on a boatyard business trip to another state, which means we’ll switch vehicles and I’ll have the truck for a couple of days.

With any luck, that will be my chance to take both batches of smelts and go trolling for bald eagles. Or, I could boost the fertilizer content of my compost. It’s too early to plant corn, but I’ll think of something.

When my husband comes home, he’ll be full of wooden boat stories and I’ll be full of bald eagle sightings, and we’ll both be as happy as clams. Maybe we’ll have chowder and drink a toast to spring and complementary love.

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