Fishing for Carp

April 13, 1995|By JANET HELLER

Walking to my neighborhood post office the other morning, I noticed a man fishing from a narrow overpass that crosses the Jones Falls. Somewhat surprised, I paused to ask what he was likely to catch.

''Carp,'' he answered with a broad smile that crinkled a lined face and revealed a mouthful of silver-capped teeth. And sure enough in a pail by his side was a plump specimen that had just been reeled in.

''My wife is making gefilte fish for Passover from the carp,'' he explained in strongly accented English. I looked doubtfully at the muddy stream and speculated about the kind of trash the carp had consumed prior to being caught. But I kept a lid on my reservations as he and his wife obviously had not suffered from earlier samplings.

''You know what is the Passover?'' he asked, trying in a subtle way to get a fix on my ancestral roots. I immediately gave him a rundown, explaining that my father had come to America as an immigrant boy from Russia before the revolution and that as a child I had watched my grandmother prepare gefilte fish and other traditional Passover dishes in her kosher kitchen in Newark, New Jersey.

He shook his head in amazement. ''Sometimes the world seems to be very small.'' My credentials had established a bond of sorts, and I felt comfortable asking about his family.

''We came to Baltimore four years ago from Moldova in the old Russia. My daughter has a job painting fingernails, and my son-in-law drives a truck that takes new cars to the dealers. Like me, they were engineers in Russia, but there are problems, especially with the language, so they must do other kinds of work. But my granddaughter,'' he said with pride, ''speaks English like she was born here.''

He adjusted one of his two lines. Then, perhaps in recognition of our common heritage, he offered to give me the next fish that took the bait. I thanked him profusely and explained with a degree of relief that I would be with a friend on Passover who is a superb gefilte fish maker and does not need any culinary assistance.

It was time to move on. I wished him good luck and good fishing and we shook hands. ''Do svidaniya,'' I said in Russian, wishing I knew more than how to say goodbye. On my return from the post office some minutes later, I passed unnoticed as the fisherman was busy taking another well-nourished carp that could have been mine off the hook.

Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.

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