A Fishermen's Terminal madeleine cookie

Smells, it has been said, help to rekindle memories more than any of our other senses. The scent of popcorn may take you back to a circus you once attended as a small child, or the smell of a fresh, just-baked apple pie has you traveling back to the days when your mother pulled pastries out of the kitchen oven.

Recently, on a trip to one of the restaurants at Fishermen's Terminal, we walked around behind the buildings to the docks where the fishing fleet was moored. There, among the working fish boats, was the scent of the sea. You could catch faint whiffs of saltwater and fish as the boats dried in the sun.

Even though I was born in the Midwest and spent my early years there, my thoughts raced back to growing up in a southern suburb of Los Angeles only 20 miles from the Pacific. When I was just entering the third grade in elementary school, my father had been transferred again by his employer. Louie and Marge Mazari become our new next-door neighbors when we moved into our new house alongside the orange grove.

The Mazaris were about 10 years older than my parents and had a teenage daughter who married and moved out of her parents' home not long after we arrived. They were an Italian family, a couple of generations away from the Old Country, and shared with us the location of good Italian restaurants and delicatessens in our new neighborhood.

Louie was what one would call an "outdoor sportsman." He fished and hunted - both sports that my father didn't participate in.

I used to go fishing when I was younger with my grandfather in the lakes around Cincinnati or Chicago, or when we took our annual vacation to a cottage on a lake up in Michigan. Mostly Gramp and I would get up around dawn, put Gramp's old Evinrude outboard motor on the back of the rowboat that came with the cottage rental and then putt-putt out into the center of the lake.

Depending on what we were using for bait, we'd spend the next few hours either drowning worms or drowning minnows. We didn't catch much.

It was Louie who first took me fishing in the ocean.

"Hey, kid," he called to me across the driveway one Saturday fall morning. "What are you doing today? How'd you like to go surf fishing with me down at the beach?" It didn't take long to get my parents' permission to accompany Louie on the new-to-me adventure.

We piled into Louie's somewhat new charcoal-and-pink 1954 Mercury two-door and rumbled the 20 miles to the ocean. We went to the far end of the Huntington State Beach Park, down by the mouth of the Santa Anna River, well beyond the area that beach-goers used for swimming.

After stopping at a beachfront bait shop for a scoop of what was called sand crabs, we walked around the end of the fence and up to the surf line. The wiggly sand crabs were small, gray, sand-burrowing surf animals without pinching claws. My next-door neighbor showed me how to bait each of the three hooks on the fishing rigs we were using.

Louie had loaned me one of his fish poles; it seemed like a telephone pole compared to the lightweight tackle I was used to. (After a few trips I bought my own rod and reel.) The spool reel was huge, too. There must be very large fish out there, I thought.

I watched Louie cast his bait out into the surf and then tried to imitate him. My first cast was abysmal. As I flung the heavy gray lead pyramid sinker that was tied to the end of the line out into the surf, I neglected to put my thumb against the spool of the reel for drag. The spool freewheeled, and soon I had a rat's nest of tangled line that took Louie and me what seemed like half an hour to unsnarl.

When we finally got our lines out, like fishermen everywhere, we waited. Gray-and-white gulls circled overhead, their calls providing an accent to the constant roar of the surf. Our rods would slowly bend and then straighten as our lines were pulled by the action of the waves.

Occasionally, one of our rod tips would give a slight jiggle as, hopefully, some denizen of the deep nibbled at our bait. When that would happen, we'd give our rod a sharp pull and try to set our hooks into whatever it was that was pulling at our lines.

Sometimes we'd even manage to catch a fish or two, but usually they would remain uncaught. So we'd stand there, a man and a boy, staring out at the breaking Pacific, talking a little but mainly just watching wave after wave as they expired against the sand we stood on.

After an hour or so, I'd tire of the fishing and pull my rig in and go off exploring what flotsam and jetsam I could find that had been cast up on our mostly deserted beach. There was a rock jetty we used to fish near that I would also scramble over, exploring as to what sort of marine species had attached themselves to the rocks just below the tide line.

It was these explorations on trips to the beach with Louie that first kindled my attraction to the ocean and all the creatures living beneath its surface. To me, aquariums were always more interesting than zoos.

After a few hours, we'd usually run out of either bait or interest, sometimes both, and then we'd wind our lines in, pick up my bucket containing whatever I'd collected on that particular trip, load all the gear back into the Mercury and head for home. Sometimes we'd stop at a beachfront stand and get ice cream cones.

After a day of handling bait, the occasional fish and all of my marine collections, we at least smelled like fishermen. It was that same scent that tripped memories of fishing trips long ago on the docks of Fishermen's Terminal.

Freelance writer Gary McDaniel is a Magnolia resident.

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