Lake Martin

I have here a letter from Marcus, who is getting married this Friday.

“I’m so nervous,” writes Marcus. “I’m thinking of calling the wedding off because I’m that scared. What should I do? I mean, I love her. But what am I doing? Am I ready for this? Should I get married?”

Dear Marcus:

My wife and I have been visiting a place called Lake Martin ever since we were first married, shortly after the Spanish-American War.

You ought to go sometime. It’s magical. When you look at Lake Martin, you’re looking at 41,150 acres of freshwater within one of the top five cleanest lakes in the United States. You can see straight through this crystalline water and—literally—see the fish swimming among the Keystone beer cans.

Lake Martin is a seasonal lake. Meaning, lots of newlyweds go there to camp in tents because it’s cheap.

This is definitely a happening spot. In the busy season Lake Martin is overrun with tricked-out boats full of barely clothed teenagers listening to loud rap music that vibrates the shingles off nearby rooftops.

During the off-season, however, the lake crowds thin out, and the place feels empty and sparse. The leaves die, the lake level recedes like ditchwater in the Mojave desert, and many lake houses are vacant. It’s fantastic.

I remember when my wife and I came here after my wife’s father died. We stayed for a few weeks. It was the off season, so there were no tourists around. It was like being a ghost town.

I couldn’t bring my wife out of her funk. So I spent a lot of time fishing by myself. I didn’t catch much more than a sunburn, and I saw her crying whenever she thought I was out of eyeshot.

I ached for her. I wished there was something I could do.

So one day, I rented a pontoon boat in hopes of cheering her up. After mortgaging my kidneys to rent the thing, we packed a picnic, donned our bathing suits and climbed aboard the S.S. Gilligan. I wore a little white sailor’s hat for morale.

I sat in the cockpit, opened up the throttle, and we levitated along the vacant lake. We had all 880 miles of shoreline to ourselves.

My wife and I visited all the major sights. We stopped by Chimney Rock, the Silo, Children’s Harbor. We trolled near the lake-house mansions and made remarks like, “What kinda idiot would live in a house that big?” Because this is what broke newlyweds say.

We ate pimento cheese sandwiches on Bunny bread, and drank Keystone from the can. It was, quite honestly, a perfect day. My wife began to emerge from her shell of grief, and I was glad to see her smile again.

Then something happened.

Our outboard motor quit working. And I don’t mean it just quit. I mean the thing practically exploded and left soot marks on our exposed skin.

For two hours I fiddled with the engine, repeatedly pulling the outboard’s ripcord until, mercifully, the engine fired and ran for a grand total of point-three seconds before coughing, sputtering, and finally going to be with Jesus.

So we were stuck.

The sun began to set. It got cold. My wife and I bundled our half-nude bodies in beach towels and T-shirts. We were over one mile from shore, the marina was closed, the lake was empty, and worse, we were out of beer.

But that’s when something else happened. My wife stood, removed her towel, wrapped the bowline tightly around her fist, then plunged into the water.

“What’re you doing?” I said.

“What’s it look like?” she said. “I’m towing us to shore.”

Whereupon my wife began swimming like Jack Lalane undergoing a nervous breakdown. She kicked her feet and flung her arms at the water.

“Are you crazy?” I said. “We can’t swim this boat to shore. Look how far it is.”

She kept swimming.

I tried to reason with her. I pleaded with her to stop, but my wife is one of those women who, once she makes up her mind, ceases to understand English.

So I joined her. In a few seconds, I splashed into the water. Soon, we were side by side, doing the breaststroke, towing our heavy boat toward the distant horizon.

The shoreline seemed as though it were five states away, and the beach never seemed to get any closer no matter how hard we beat against the water.

But eventually, after what felt like 2,490 hours of Olympic-style swimming, we arrived on the soft sand. We were breathless and tired. But we did it.

We rolled our limp bodies onto the shore and we began laughing so hard that my wife started crying.

I held her in my arms and looked at the huge pontoon, then I gazed at the immense lake behind us. I couldn’t believe how far we had swum together. Two painfully ordinary humans had just done something pretty extraordinary.

And well, that’s marriage.

51 comments

  1. Susan H Poole - March 22, 2022 7:15 am

    How many ways can I count just how much I like your post, Sean? Although in my mind I am breathless from “helping” tow that pontoon to the shore, I feel so light-hearted after reading your story. Thanks for bringing smiles tonight.☺️

    Reply
  2. Theresa Elkins - March 22, 2022 8:27 am

    Sean, in hind sight I’m pretty sure there are 18 feet long alligators in that lake…. I’d say it was y’all’s lucky day.

    Reply
    • G F Phillips@aol.com - March 23, 2022 2:16 am

      Noooo. Have had a house there since 1975. Never have seen a gator.

      Reply
  3. David P Feder - March 22, 2022 8:38 am

    Excellent!

    Reply
  4. Lander - March 22, 2022 8:46 am

    Giving your partner space, discovering what she can do, working on figuring out how to survive together, those are pretty good ways of working out a marriage. Well done, Sean.

    Reply
  5. Joy Jacobs - March 22, 2022 9:29 am

    We recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Lots of good times but it’s the hard times that make marriage so important… you’re not alone. ❤️

    Reply
  6. Ginger Smith - March 22, 2022 10:01 am

    Wow. That’s the best allegory(?) I’ve ever heard about marriage. I’ve been to Lake Martin once. The water comes from the Tallapoosa River in Georgia. Wonderful, clean water. Yes, Martin has clear water, not the muddy waters we are used to south of there. Very refreshing.
    Enjoy your new house, Alabama, and living your best life!

    Reply
  7. Cindy L - March 22, 2022 10:33 am

    I agree 1000%–Lake Martin is a place to heal. Like my parents, I grew up on Lake Martin. In 2016 following my husband’s death I joined my parents for the summer at their lake house. That’s where I got my head-and heart–right.

    Reply
  8. Bec - March 22, 2022 10:34 am

    I’m reading from Virginia stories about my home state, capturing the scene of Lake Martin & the teamwork of marriage makes me a little homesick for Alabama but mostly for my husband who I lost last year. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Prov. 25:11 excellent application.

    Reply
  9. MaryEllen - March 22, 2022 11:28 am

    Funny and Beautiful and oh so true!!!
    Thank you for writing this. My husband and I have been together for 38 years and truer words could not be spoken.
    God Bless you and all those you love!

    Reply
  10. Ruth Mitchell - March 22, 2022 11:36 am

    Yep! That’s marriage. I’m thankful I have that same kind of “oneness” in mine. Together we have conquered many obstacles that I, alone, would never have attempted. I hope that young man finds his Lake Martin and moves forward.

    Reply
  11. Judy - March 22, 2022 11:54 am

    Lake Martin is a magical place in deed, started camping there in 1967. So many memories. Read you every morning, keep up the good work.

    Reply
  12. Dina Voutour - March 22, 2022 11:56 am

    A truly beautiful story! You sound a lot like my husband and I! We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this Friday!

    Only difference is we do have a boat. We have had big boats and little boats and we have a small boat now.

    He once started the motor for us to leave our fishing spot at the Jacksonville Jetties and the steering on the outboard broke. I was immediately thrown on the floor of the boat. The boat was running at full throttle in ever widening circles and heading closer and closer to the rocks that make up the jetties. I just knew we would soon die!

    He manhandled that motor at the just the right time and got us straightened out. Now this motor did not have a steering stick on it and for the life of me I can’t remember how we got back to the boat ramp. He is out fishing now or I would ask him. A few weeks later we were at a salvage store and low and behold I found a 50 horse brand new Evinrude outboard motor in a box. We bought it and back fishing.

    Live is good.

    Reply
  13. Jan - March 22, 2022 12:28 pm

    My husband, three sons and I spent some of the best times of our life at Lake Martin. Our sons were young and we would pack up our van and drive there almost every weekend from Birmingham. We camped out on a tiny island in the middle of the lake many times, sat for hours in the boat on July 4th watching the fireworks on the lake and watched teenagers jump from Chimney Rock on many a day. Wonderful memories. Thanks for the great story and the lesson on the teamwork that defines a good marriage.

    Reply
  14. Naomi Smith - March 22, 2022 12:28 pm

    You said it! If a person contemplated how a marriage works from the starting line, it is a daunting task. Then life happens. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Sometime the Amazing also comes along and is worth it all. Keep a sense of humor and suddenly 54 years have passed!

    Reply
  15. Ann of Mobile - March 22, 2022 12:29 pm

    Wonderful. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  16. hearthsmart - March 22, 2022 12:35 pm

    That is a very beautiful story! I anticipated every moment the ebbs and flow changed your directions. Well done!

    Reply
  17. oldandblessed - March 22, 2022 12:52 pm

    Sean, your endless inventory of metaphors is amazing. Keep ’em comin’ and I’ll keep reading. Thanks!

    Reply
  18. Jeanette - March 22, 2022 1:04 pm

    Beautiful story, but I bet there were paddles under the seats. My husband can’t swim and I’m only slightly better, and much smaller. We would’ve paddled to shore even if it took 3 days. Yes marriage is teamwork and many forced finishes!

    Reply
  19. Pingback: Sean of the South: Lake Martin | The Trussville Tribune

  20. 24 & counting - March 22, 2022 1:08 pm

    Marcus…the beauty of marriage vs. Dating is in the ride, the long haul of doing it ALL together & hopefully with a sense of humor & GOD guiding you. You got this. Sean’s story describes it perfectly. You have her as your help mate & she has you!! Best to you both.

    Reply
  21. Lyla Springfield - March 22, 2022 1:21 pm

    Today’s column is perfect as it’s our 50th anniversary! Thank you!!! 🥂❤️🥂❤️🥂❤️🥂

    Reply
  22. Cathy M - March 22, 2022 1:42 pm

    Sometimes you feel like you are going to drown but then you feel your partner beside you and you keep on swimming. It’s worth it. My husband of over 50 yrs. Is not a romantic nor is he a man who expresses his feelings easily. He is kind, generous and can barely return thanks at family gatherings without getting choked up. Recently we were helping with our youngest set of grandchildren and he called me to check on our schedule and he then said, “ we make a good team don’t we”. It touched my heart. Yes , sometimes your boat dies in the middle of Lake Martin with no one around but you keep on swimming side by side. I love your column today and every day. Thank you for the gift of your words. You are a blessing to many❤️🙏🏻

    Reply
  23. Johnnie Blackburn - March 22, 2022 1:56 pm

    Tell that young man to jump in the water. If he’s not scared, that’s when he should worry.

    Reply
  24. Shelton A. - March 22, 2022 2:06 pm

    That’s marriage, commitment, and love. You broke through her wall of grief is a very unlikely way but by swimming with her, towing the boat to shore, you proved how much you love her. Thank you for a marvelous story that proves the power of love. Marcus, if you love her, marry her. Blessings and peace

    Reply
  25. Jackie - March 22, 2022 2:21 pm

    Ain’t it grand ❤️

    Reply
  26. Ann G Bradford - March 22, 2022 2:54 pm

    I live full time on Lake Martin and LOVE THIS STORY!

    Reply
  27. Holly Layman - March 22, 2022 3:07 pm

    Gosh darn it, Sean! I thought I’d be able to read this column without needing Kleenex. I was wrong. (I really ought to know better by now.) My parents were married 55 years. My mom died two days after this past Christmas, and my dad followed her just 13 days later. I’m still reeling. This post was beautiful for so many reasons. As always, thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  28. Susan W Fitch - March 22, 2022 3:47 pm

    A beautiful story, thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  29. Cynthia Russell - March 22, 2022 4:17 pm

    PERFECT RESPONSE SEAN!! LOVE THAT HEART OF YOURS!!

    Reply
  30. Becky+Souders - March 22, 2022 5:09 pm

    Yup, you’re right. Working through the tough days together and also enjoying the carefree ones together. Great tale and a great message today, Sean Dietrich.

    Reply
  31. Barbara Mc - March 22, 2022 5:13 pm

    This one is special because Lake Martin is special to me. I don’t think it would be normal if you never broke down on the water. Quite an experience but y’all handled it like heroes. Keep an oar on the boat and no matter how big the boat is you can always paddle to shore! ❤️

    Reply
  32. Juanita Cordle - March 22, 2022 5:27 pm

    A few years ago, my husband and I got caught in a deluge while paddling a canoe at Lake Fontana, which is HUGE! We were far enough out that we couldn’t see the marina. We shrugged at each other in the blinding rain and paddled…and paddled…and paddled. We made it and thought to ourselves that it was pretty good for two old people to work in unison together. In May, we celebrate fifty years together. Thanks for reminding me of our adventure together!

    Reply
  33. LIN ARNOLD - March 22, 2022 5:57 pm

    LOVE IT!!!!

    Reply
  34. Kathy. - March 22, 2022 7:37 pm

    What a wonderful story! In one way or another, my husband and I have been swimming like that for 50 years. Some times we do better than others.

    Reply
  35. Linda Moon - March 22, 2022 8:00 pm

    What a kind husband you were to take your wife to Lake Martin when she needed to take her mind off the loss of her father. I, too, was a newlywed when I lost my daddy. And I’ve teared up just now reading about your extraordinary marriage. Keep swimming, Sean and Jamie.

    Reply
  36. Dottie - March 22, 2022 9:31 pm

    One of your best stories, and that’s saying a BUNCH! I look forward to your writing every day. As one who got lucky and has been married 57 years this June, you have described that great adventure perfectly.

    Reply
  37. AlaRedClayGirl - March 22, 2022 9:38 pm

    I love the analogy in your story! I’ve always heard that marriage is a 50-50 proposition. But I can tell you after 36 years of marriage, sometimes it can be a 75-25 or even more lopsided. The key to a successful marriage is the everyday decision to love your spouse and to stay married no matter what happens, rely heavily upon God, and it never hurts to have a healthy sense of humor.

    Reply
  38. Donna - March 22, 2022 9:54 pm

    Well done and well said! Needed that smile today ☺️

    Reply
  39. Rita Weber - March 22, 2022 10:43 pm

    I love this so much! A long marriage is indeed a miracle of God!

    Reply
  40. skolivertx - March 22, 2022 10:57 pm

    One of your best!

    Reply
  41. Bkr - March 22, 2022 11:50 pm

    This story was absolutely wonderful. You nailed it!

    Reply
  42. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 23, 2022 1:35 am

    I do T think you ever told us that story before. Jamie really is Wonder Woman!!! You better NEVER let her go!!

    Reply
  43. Steve McCaleb - March 23, 2022 2:50 am

    Somewhere, somehow Johnny Weismueller is grinnin like a possum eatin sawbriers. Him and Cheetah…..warms my heart. And you’re right marriage is a fine institution……just make your ready to be institutionalized.

    Reply
  44. Margaret Jackson - March 23, 2022 3:14 am

    Wonderful story!!!
    When my husband & I got married -a long, long time ago- we had very little money.
    So, we spent our honeymoon in our little apartment in Auburn and took day trips to places around. One night we took a pile of quilts, sandwich fixings, colas, fishing gesr and a box of wigglers and went to a spot on Lake Martin that was the back of beyond!!
    We sat around and fished and as it got later, we saw a bullfrog on the bank. Mike tossed a wiggler near him snd he snapped it up. Mike threw another, and another, and Mr. Bullfrog kept snapping. Eventually, he would think about it before slowly reaching out for the worm. There came a point where he just ignored it. That frog was so stuffed!!!! I hope we didn’t kill him with all those worms!!
    Love reading your stories. Living in Birmingham is going to be a new adventure. Be safe in this storm coming thru!
    Margaret Jackson

    Reply
  45. Slimpicker - March 23, 2022 4:27 am

    I was on a lake once in a small sailboat, when a storm came up with winds too high to sail back to the marina, so I had to jump in the lake and swim the sailboat back to shore.
    I didn’t marry the girl that was with me since she was my sister and we weren’ in Kentucky.

    Reply
  46. Kate - March 23, 2022 12:14 pm

    Without my husband I would have never had the adventures (even in day to day life) that I have experienced over the last 25 years. What fun (and heartaches) we have experienced. I cannot imagine life without him.

    Reply
  47. Carole Moormann - March 23, 2022 5:50 pm

    Wow what an incredible story. Thank you.

    Reply
  48. Cheryl Buchanan - March 23, 2022 6:02 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  49. Freda Clarke - March 26, 2022 1:49 pm

    Love reading your collum, like a dose of good medicine!

    Reply
  50. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 29, 2022 4:11 am

    Reply

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