by David Cecelski
The first time I knew the spots were running was just west of the Northeast Cape Fear River, on US 117 in Pender County. I saw a young boy sitting in a red pick-up truck in a yard full of nets and boats. Next to the truck, a sign read “Fresh Spots.” Fall is here, I said to myself.
In Wilmington, the sweet, bony, little fish were everywhere. I was there to give a lecture for the YWCA and as I drove around town, every fish market had a big sign by the road or a placard in its window that said “Fresh Spots” or sometimes just “Spots.”
Later, on my way home, I saw an older fellow with a cooler full of spots by the side of the road at the fork where US 74/76 Business and By-Pass split off east of Whiteville. He still had his boat on his truck’s trailer, so I knew they were fresh.
As I drove toward Fayetteville on US 87, every little grill and cafe seemed to be advertising spots. I almost stopped for lunch when I saw the sign for “Fresh Spots” at the old S & J Grill in Dublin, in Bladen County. In business since the 1950s, it’s just up the road from the famous Houston’s Peanut’s plant and retail shop.
I decided to wait a little while to eat, but I didn’t last much longer. I finally stopped at Anderson’s Grill in Tar Heel. It’s a wonderful little country cooking joint right on US 87. It’s just across the street from UFCW Local 1208, the union at the Smithfield Packing Company on the other side of town, said to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.
Anderson’s Grill had a crowd, but I didn’t mind waiting. The seating is all outside on picnic tables and on a low, cement block wall and it was a pretty day. Everybody was in a celebratory mood, too, it being a Friday and with the spots running. A few people were having fried crab dinners or a barbecue sandwich, but most everybody was eating spots.
I got a plate of fried spots and cornbread and sat on the wall, picking the meat off the bones a little bit with a fork, but mostly with my fingers. It did make for a nice end to summer.