Long ago a fisherman lived with his wife in a small bungalow by the bayou. All day he fished from his rowboat while she tended her garden and they thought they had everything they could ever want or need.
One morning, just as the fisherman was settling back for a nap, he felt a tug on his line so powerful his reel almost jumped from his hand. After a mighty struggle and rollicking fight he hauled in the biggest, ugliest catfish anyone had ever seen. It looked like a cross between a one-eyed snake and a three-legged alligator and thrashed like four muskrats tied up in a gunnysack. He wrestled it into the bottom of his boat and picked up his machete to chop off its head. At that instant, the catfish spoke.
“Please set me free,” it said in a deep gravelly voice like a judge from a bench. “I am the oldest of all the catfish in the Mississippi. They call me the Catfish King. My influence reaches far and wide and deep. Toss me back and I will grant your every wish. Just tell me what you want or need.”
The man had never heard a fish talk before. He lowered his knife and stared.
The fish began to flop around desperately. “Just tell me,” it gasped. “If you want money, I can bargain with bankers. If you want fame, I can pull strings with newspaper reporters. If you want power, I’ve got political connections.”
The fisherman shook his head. “Guess I already have everything I want but a catfish dinner.” He raised his machete again.
“Hold on,” the fish gulped. “Why don’t you check with your wife, just to be sure.”
The fisherman always listened to his wife, so he tossed the catfish back into the river and rowed home.
When he told her about the Catfish King, his wife didn’t hesitate an instant. “Tell him I want to be the Mardi Gras Queen this year in New Orleans.”
Now every year the leaders of the bands that marched in the Mardi Gras Parade elected the prettiest woman in the city to be their queen. The fisherman knew his wife was prettier than any city woman in New Orleans. He ran down to the river and called to the Catfish King, “My wife wants to be the Mardi Gras Queen.”
The catfish poked its whiskered snout above the water. “I have plenty of influence with the band leaders in New Orleans. They’ll be happy to oblige.”
That year the fisherman’s wife was the Mardi Gras Queen. She rode on a float drawn by high-stepping horses and tossed candy by the handful to the crowds that lined the streets. And her life seemed as sweet as pecan pralines with coconut cream.
But after she returned home, she was never quite satisfied. Life on the bayou was as dull as the inside of an old iron pot, she complained.