Fred the Piranha

By Margie Bailey Rose


There is a long history of fishing in our family.  It began as a necessary food source and, as times improved, became entertainment.  When my children joined the older fishermen in the family it was a shock to them that you had to kill the fish before it got to your plate.  The kids preferred leaving the fish in a bucket of water and letting lack of oxygen kill them before it was time to come home.


At the end of a fishing trip to a small lake near our home in Federal Way, Washington, three small bass were still alive in the bucket when they got home.  Tenderhearted #2 did not want to kill them, and they were not really big enough to make a meal, so I let the kids put the bass in the 5-gallon tank with our goldfish.


When we sprinkled food in the tank the goldfish came to the surface and gobbled the dry food, but the bass stayed at the bottom; they got thinner and thinner.  I tried different brands of food with no luck.  One day I noticed that there seemed to be fewer small goldfish in the tank.  I checked for floaters, and the filter, but found no bodies.  Hmm-mm, had the cat been fishing again or were the bass looking fatter?


When the tank population was down to the three bass and one large goldfish with a bite out of his tail, we set up a tank watch but never caught a culprit in the act.  We had a discussion about whether we should kill the bass to save the last goldfish or buy another tank.  That led us into survival of the fittest and evolution discussions.  In the mean time the last goldfish disappeared.


The bass still wouldn't eat goldfish food or pond-fish food, and they began to get thinner again.  By now our fish tank was a Darwinian experiment.  The three thin bass became two fat ones and finally only one remained.  Cannibalism ruled!  Number 2 named the survivor Fred (he named everything Fred) and we tried to tempt our finned friend with raw hamburger.  (I refused to buy more goldfish for him/her to eat.)  It must have been a telepathic message from Fred that told me to ask #2 and #3 what they used for bait when they caught Fred– worms, of course!  The boys dashed to the compost pile and came back with a nice fat worm that they dropped in the tank.  Fred nudged the wiggling worm once and sucked it down like spaghetti.  A cheer went up from all who were gathered around.  Several kids ran out to get more worms.  One after another they dropped worms in the tank.  Fred slurped them up until he could no longer get them down.  Half of the last worm curled and twisted from his mouth.


Fred and his tank moved from a dark corner of the family room to the kitchen counter.  He was now a member of the family and grew large and fat.  Boys being boys teased Fred by dangling worms above the tank while the bass swam excitedly around and around.  One day, to #2's surprise, Fred leaped halfway out of the water and snatched the worm from his fingers.  Fred became a celebrity.  He seemed to enjoy jumping ever higher for his supper.  Kids came from far and wide to see Fred jump and I warned the boys about feeding him to death.


Unbeknown to me my children were telling neighborhood kids that Fred was a piranha.  Some believed it without question, but a few protested that having a piranha was illegal and we would be arrested if we had one.  Those were the kids #2 vowed to convince.  I was baking cookies one day when the new boys from across the street came in with #2 and #3.  They gathered around the tank jockeying for a good view.  I heard #2 tell the oldest boy to hold his hand over the tank and see for himself.  The boy moved his hand tentatively over the tank and Fred, thinking he was being fed, leapt out of the water and bumped the boy's hand.  He let out a yelp, jerked his hand up and banged it into the light under the cupboard.  He ran screaming from our house and his mom was knocking on our door in less than five minutes.


The neighbor boy wasn't bitten, and the fish wasn't a piranha, but our notoriety in the neighborhood moved up several notches.  I fully expected to have Animal Control or Fish & Game on my front porch the next day but no such luck.  We would have had fun with them too.


Fred lived on our counter for two years, and we were all sad when he died.  Fred was buried with honors in the back yard with all the other pets that my six children brought home and loved to death.