I was packing up my bags when the phone call came. It was somewhere around 7 a.m. but I’d been up an hour already.
“Karen, looks like there might be a Jubilee going on.”
“Oh, wow!” I said. “Really?”
“I’m headed out to the pier to see,” Jane said.
“I’ll meet you there.”
For those unaware, there is this phenomenon that happens only in two places in the entire world – one is Tokyo Bay, the other is Mobile Bay.
They call it a Jubilee and I wrote about it in my book Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? (Zondervan).
In 2008, when I was writer-in-residence at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts, I first heard about this thing called a Jubilee. I was at a book club meeting at Stacey ‘s home. The women there told stories about the Jubilee’s they had witnessed or taken part in.
I had never heard of such a thing. A Jubilee? A time when fish rise to the surface of the waters and fishermen up and down the bay can literally take nets and buckets and get all the fish they can. No limits. Take it as much as you want.
I told everyone there: If you hear about a Jubilee happening, call me. No matter what time of day or night. Most Jubilees occur in the wee hours of the morning when grown-ups sleep (unless they happen to be writers or insomniacs). Four days later, I got a call at 6 a.m. Donna Hill whispered into the phone, “Karen, there’s a Jubilee. Get on down here.”
I called Tim on my way there, even though it was 4 a.m. his time. I had told him about the Jubilee and now I was headed to one. We both teared up.
Now here was the phone call again, and Tim was off with the son in Georgia. We were meeting later that day.
Back in 2008 when the Jubilee happened, I had a camera and Frank Feagin had the buckets and gigs. There was no iPhone to take photos or record the event with. No way to Facetime and put the person in the moment.
That memory of that 2008 Jubilee is seared into my soul. I waded out into the shallows with Frank, gig and nets in hand as we scooped up big flounder after big flounder, as ells swam around our legs. Oh, the feast we had that followed! The piers up and down Point Clear, Alabama were crawling with people exuberant in their haul.
It was the kind of day you never want to end. Filled with laughter and joy and sheer “I can’t believe this” exclamations. The feasting followed. And because I didn’t want the day to end, I slept out on the pier.
Jane was right.
There was a Jubilee yesterday as well.
The neighbor walking out to her pier called out: I haven’t seen a Jubilee in years! Not in years!
There are people who live there in Fairhope who have never seen the mythological Jubilee. Some of them were at a party at Stacye’s that I attended last week. They had the same discussion that we’d had back in 2008: What is a Jubilee? How does one find out about it? I remember the year I went to a Jubilee.
Every Jubilee is different from the other.
Some Jubilees go up and down the bay. Some happen in concentrated areas of the bay. In 2008, the fish that rose to the surface were mostly flounder, good sized flounder. Some shrimp.
Yesterday, when Jane and I arrived at the pier, the Jubilee was almost all baby catfish and good sized shrimp. More catfish than shrimp.There were other fish as well – juvenile flounders and half-dollar sized sting-rays, more ell.
But schools and schools and schools of baby catfish.
The shrimp would have been worth the effort of netting if there was someway to get them without the catfish, who would just make everything more difficult. Every try to untangle a necklace? We’d have to do that for every baby catfish we brought up.
So instead of making a haul, most everyone along the pier, just sat and watched as the birds swooped in. And swoop in they did.
Terns and pelicans raised their voices like a Gospel Choir at a Holy Ghost convention. Lord, you could hear them calling out with joy at the bounty before them.
Hundreds of them gathered around the ends of the piers, dive-bombing then swooping skyward with silver treasures grasped in their mouths. Drunken pirates, all.
Their mouths often bigger than their bellies, the terns would struggle with balancing the fish just right, so as not to lose it, so as to be able to take flight again.
The pelicans ate so much they quit trying to fly.
Jane left for tennis and I sat there on the edge of that pier for a good long while, watching as the birds feasted on the bounty of fish. Thinking, just as I did in 2008, that whenever there is a bounty of anything, it is because someone, somewhere has sacrificed greatly, sometimes with their very lives.
The Native American have a tradition of thanking the salmon for the life they lived – and the life they give – before feasting.
Maybe it’s because I’m a grandmother now, seeing all those baby catfish, those small fishes, being scooped up in the belly of those terns and pelicans, wrecked me. I can’t even write about it now, 24 hours later, without hearing the cries of all those babies that were slain under Herod in the search for the One Who Would Be the Ultimate Sacrifice.
My girlfriend, Sarah Thebarge, and I were talking yesterday about how horrible the Scriptures really are, when you think about it. If I went to a publisher and said I wanted to write a true crime about a city in which all the male children ages two and under are brutally slain by ISIS, I am pretty sure that book would be outright rejected – especially if the publisher I went to was a Christian publisher.It was difficult enough finding a publisher for a true crime story about the murder of one precious 3-year old named Karly Sheehan.
We like to sanitize our Christianity. We like to pretend the Bible isn’t full of the worst betrayals known to mankind.
We like a clean, sanctified cross.
Not a bloody, defecated one.
Sarah said that the Jubliee happening twice to me, at the same place, with the same people, must be a sign or something.
God’s poetry, right?
Or something like that.
I have lived a life of juxtapositions.
As a Gold Star Daughter, I have known since I was nine that the people like to give lip service to the families of fallen soldiers, but the day-to-day reality of what that sacrifice entails, even now, 50 years later, well, as my friend Stacey summed it up so well: “I am not sure I wanted to know all that stuff about you.”
Dad’s death date was July 24, 1966.
I didn’t mention his death date on that day to anyone other than my brother and sister. It’s easy for us to keep track of that day. We remember it like yesterday.
On the eve of his death date, I sat on that same pier and wept thinking about the last sunset my father ever saw, if he even had time to see the sunset. Did he experience wonder in those last days of his life? Or did he only know the stench of war?
Fifty years is a lot of life to have missed out on. I watch Tim with his grandsons, how much they delight in him and how his very presence thrills those boys, and I think of my father.
Of all that life, he gave up. I think of that sacrifice a lot as this election year seeks to destroy all of us. None will escape the choices we make. Soldiers who fight in war know this one truth to be self-evident: We are stronger together in diversity than we are together divided over anything.
Jubliees might be rare occurrences in Mobile Bay but they are part of our daily existence. Yours and mine. The yin-and-yang of life. Someone rejoices. Someone weeps. Someone has bounty untold. Someone starves. Someone is healed. Someone dies. Someone goes to a Braves game. Someone goes to war and learns what bravery really entails.
“Treat the earth and all that dwell thereon with respect. Remain close to the Great Spirit. Show great respect for your fellow beings. Work together for the benefit of all Mankind. Give assistance and kindness, wherever needed,” admonishes the Native Commandments of the Cherokees. “Do what you know to be right, look after the well-being of mind and body. Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good. Be truthful and honest at all times.
“Take full responsibility for your actions. Greet the dawn of a new day when all can live as one with nature and peace reigns everywhere. Oh, Great Spirit, bring to our brothers the wisdom of Nature and the knowledge that if her laws are obeyed, this land will again flourish and grasses and trees will grow as before.
“Guide those that through their councils seek to spread the wisdom to the leaders of all people. Heal the raw wounds of the earth and restore to our souls the richness which strengthens men’s bodies and make them wise in their councils. Bring to all the knowledge that great cities live only through the bounty of the good earth beyond their paved streets and towers of stone and steel.”
We, you and me, live in the juxtaposition of the Jubilee everyday of our lives.
God sits on the pier watching, weeping and laughing over us, and hoping that even in the midst of it all, we notice the wonder of it all.
And give thanks.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? (Zondervan).