New Years’ Eve would never be the same again.

The story about a New Year’s Eve, spur-of-the-moment fish fry with fifty or more people showing up at our house is one of those “I remember when” trips down memory lane that might have faded road signs, considering the trip goes back an eon or two to December 31, 1974.

I remember when …

When you preface a story with those words, how certain are you that the memory is accurate? Is the story’s veracity confirmed by a written record, a video, scrapbook of photos, or is the retelling of facts based mostly on the fact that is has been retold dozens of times – perhaps even embellished with additional facts with the march of time?


This is not an actual photo of the author, though AdobeStock does a fine job here of illustrating the mad scientist lab that once occupied a corner of a green duplex in Belle, Missouri.

My mom has said that I “remember big.” And that’s fair. But it doesn’t mean embellishments aren’t true and that the actual, original story was fiction. You know why? I have a written record of comings, goings, life events, and chemistry set experiments gone (intentionally) awry from my days of youth. Eight-year-old me – that was 50 years ago – produced a family “newsletter” that recounted G.I. Joe holding Barbie hostage in exchange for my youngest sister’s ice cream; a sibling’s alleged nose-picking; and how squirrel hunting ended with me wearing the skinned tree rats as hand puppets and “entertaining” my mom and sisters.

Good times.

At age ten, I began keeping a mostly daily record. No self-respecting ten-year-old boy would call it a diary. My journal, certainly on par with the journals of Lewis and Clark, the pen scratchings of Magellan, and introspective works of Thoreau, was aptly called The Little Black Book of Great Adventures.

So, there was a fish fry on New Year’s Eve 1974, with a classmate, Kelly, in attendance. Since then, she and I have spent all but one New Year’s Eve together. As folks might say, that’s been a minute. As for the memory lane trip back to 12-31-74, there might be some cases of “remembering big,” but there’s also The Little Black Book of Great Adventures, henceforth referred to as TBOGA.

My window to the world.

At first count, there were 41 people at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known. The southeast corner of the house was my bedroom, with a window that looked out a short seventy feet to the Rock Island railroad tracks and a path to untold adventures.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd that night. It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember (there’s no mention of the event’s genesis in TBOGA), the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watchnight Service at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store on Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle. Watchnight Services were a great tradition if only because the young’uns got to stay up unreasonably late and eat too much unhealthy food, the latter a fair descriptions of the most enjoyable Baptist traditions.

There in the pages of TBOGA are the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; TBOGA doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base, a site formerly occupied by a stubborn metal clothesline pole that had no place on a popular Wiffle ball field, so the pole was excised from the ground by Mike Abel’s riding mower a few months earlier. (Note: TBOGA does not provide details on my mom’s reaction when she pulled into the drive just as Mike was pulling the unsightly pole out of the ground.)

The fish fry. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course, because, you know, we Baptists eschewed such beverages), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle came to rest pointing at me and my sister, Kathy).

Good times, great “stuff.”

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to TBOGA:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially want to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of mostly-dead and skeletal biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collect the “stuff.” (Ed. note: I had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had miscarried her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly D., who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Future scribblings in the book became more serious; fewer budding mad scientist experiments to report.

Now the memory fog.

Some memories are so indelibly etched in our minds that the blurry parts come from our psyche’s desire to weave the best times into the fabrics of the not-so-best times. For instance, for many years I thought, “We always have a fish fry on New Year’s Eve,” pointing to the epic event on 12-31-1974 and again on 12-31 … Wait. When was the second one? The third? We always did that, right?

There was one more fish fry, but it was planned, lacked the spontaneity, and had fewer people. Ah, another memory that tricks my mind to believe “we always did that.”

When eleven-year-old me visits from my memory vault, with questions about how it all turned out, I reassure him that there are still some things we always do. An ongoing, epic fish fry on New Year’s Eve and other traditions that, in reality, didn’t occur often enough to qualify as “tradition.” But he doesn’t need to know that.

As 12-31-2021 crawls toward a new year on the calendar, one visitor from that 1974 fish fry remains closer than ever. My bride, Kelly, with whom I will celebrate 40 years of marriage on 6-5-22.

I think she might be expecting more than an epic fish fry. I know I am. But eleven-year-old me won’t be told any differently.