The Jubilator

When you fully appreciate the joy and magic of a jubilee, that 4 a.m. phone call never gets old.

Jubilate (noun): “a call to rejoice; an outburst of triumph”

There was one this morning, at least that’s what the guys in the office said. A few dead crabs, couple dozen shrimp, no flounder. Not much to it. Red-eyed guys in shorts came into the office a little late, still sweating from a quick shower at home. Their wet fish chatter distracted us all from the dry paper and the flat screens before us this day. Thank God.

That’s the way most of us know about jubilees around here, by the stories of the near misses and the excesses, stories told by both the smooth pilgrims and the smelly veterans. In 23 years here, I’ve only been on two or three. There could have been more, of course, but maybe I don’t try hard enough now, don’t answer the 4 a.m. phone anymore, or don’t believe that it could happen every late summer night when the wind and the tide and the rains are right. Maybe I don’t believe enough, but I know a young man who does. He lives alone in his parents’ house on the Bay near Mary Ann Beach. He’s only 23 but talks as if he’s seen all the jubilees since he was old enough to walk down to the beach alone. Maybe he has. He’s careful, not greedy, another way to say “respectful.” He invented his own gig rig, like a lot of folks along the Bay, a single ground point, smooth, thin stainless steel rod (“Barbs tear up the fish and slow you down”) that flows onto a long stringer with a red gill-net float at the end of it. On his gift models he paints the tip gold, adds a few colored glass beads and signs the float. He gives them away freely.

You never hear him fussing and moaning about too many jubileal fish to clean, or sinful stories about throwing fish away. His daddy raised him right. Mostly what you see from him are the beautiful pictures, all posed well, the fish lit wet in the morning light, revealing colors from the sky that we don’t know are there. Sometimes he does a sketch or a painting of the morning’s surprise.

We hear from him the stories, stories told like each jubilee is his first, stories about the paleness of the flounder this time or the frightening blue-purple color of the seven-inch shrimp lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, one row deep, at the water’s edge. He tells stories that make you want to listen, pulled in by the twinkle in his young eyes.

- Sponsors -

One July, he got on a good one at Zundel’s, a big one with everything in it. He got there early, had it mostly to himself. He never talks about the people anyway, only rich stories about the creatures in the pool of his hot light, on his stick or in his net. One hour later, he had his fish. He had taken enough. He had his story and his pictures. What I remember most about this one was the color shot of 24 perfect two-pound flounders, all gigged skillfully in the head, laid out carefully in a shingle pattern like scales on a Walter Anderson reptile, the morning sun pulling colors out of the brown fish that were only there for this moment, flat fish that now swam together in a new school.

The Jubilator filleted all of the fish but one and shared most of the meat with his parents and brothers. On the last fish he performed his favorite maneuver; double filleted it, removing the backbone and ribs, then stitched it back together and stuffed it with a crab/sausage/shrimp mix. That night he broiled it for his sweetheart, and while enjoying the feast, they began their discussions of marriage.

The joy in the Jubilator’s eyes is the joy of blessings received from the sea, blessings revered, photographed, sketched, painted, preached and then devoured around the feast table with his family of friends. Blessings that are new each time his cell phone sings at three in the morning, still new when he washes up the fillet mess hours later, still new when he shows his photos and tells his story again, still new when he broils the fish. The Jubilator believes, without doubt, that fish should always swim ashore and wait at men’s feet. He believes that he must be there to meet them and continue their journey, continue their story. He believes while we sleep. The Jubilator keeps the jubilee.

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!