GROWING UP CATHOLIC meant big families and fish on Fridays. Both were fine by me. We lived on the Pulaski River where my brothers, sisters and I spent tireless hours horsing around, swimming and fishing.

Thursday evenings in the summer we strode barefoot through dewy grass, armed with flashlights and tins cans that we filled with unsuspecting night crawlers. The next day we fished until we ran out of worms. We always had fabulous feasts on Fridays — catfish, pickerel, perch or bass.

Our arrangement worked well until winter when the temps dropped and the river froze. This seasonal dilemma plagued everyone in the diocese, and for families as large as ours, obtaining fish on Fridays became a hardship.

One snowy Friday evening while Ma and Lu were making dinner, I heard Ma say that the bishop had given us a dispensation and we wouldn’t have to eat fish on Fridays in the winter.

A dispensation? I was excited!

Since the bishop was a good man, it followed that a dispensation must be a good thing even though I had no idea what one was or even what one tasted like. My mouth swam with possibilities!

When Ma called, “Dinner,” I couldn’t get to my place fast enough. Ma was carrying a weighty plate to the table but I wasn’t able to see what it contained. What was a dispensation? Was it like chicken? Like hot dogs? I craned my neck but couldn’t see. Ma sauntered around Jay’s highchair and set the steaming platter on the table.

“What is this?” asked Annie. Bull’s eyebrows arched. Paddy grinned. Ma smirked.

“It’s a dispensation,” I announced. Everybody laughed.

“It’s muskrat,” Lu announced, “and we have the good bishop to thank for it!”