Lake Martin—I could see myself living on this lake. Any prime lakefront property would do.
Also, while we’re daydreaming, I would like a herd of flying pigs. And a money tree. And a little fountain in the backyard that squirts chocolate syrup.
I first visited Lake Martin on a fishing trip as a boy. The man who took me wasn’t kin, but he told me to call him “Uncle,” and the name stuck.
There were four or five men on that trip, and I was invited to tag along because they felt bad for a fatherless kid like me.
I was youngest in the group, but those men never treated me like a child. They gave me the same kindness you’d show a stray.
It was like visiting paradise. The water was wide. The fish were big. I fell in love with it all.
And that is precisely where I am writing you from. I am seated on a dock, looking at scenery.
I only have a few minutes before I leave town. We’ve been on the road for a few days, we have eight days left. My wife and I have been living out of a cooler, surviving on gas-station coffee.
Good coffee is hard to find on the road. Consequently, so are clean bathrooms. I have seen a few horrific restroom scenarios that were like witnessing the Fifth Circle of Hell.
But here at the lake, I forget about the rigors of travel, and I am brought back to the middle.
Yesterday, we ate at Oskar’s. It’s the kind of small place filled with men in camouflage caps, and waitresses so sweet they might melt in the rain.
The fries were the good kind of fries. I am a connoisseur of French fries. Also—and I’m not proud of this—I dip my fries in ranch dressing.
Oskar’s has good ranch.
After our meal, we went back to the room. The parking lot was filled with trucks that were towing boats, even though it’s March. I stood at the window, being nosy.
One truck tried to back a bass boat into two parking spaces. The driver was either inexperienced with trailers, or blind drunk. The vehicle smashed into everything in sight. It ran over two Nissans, one Ford, a Chevy, and almost flattened a nun on a bicycle.
For our supper, we ate at Niffer’s. This is your typical lakeside bar and grill.
Country music played overhead. The beer was cold, the fries were good, the ranch dressing was exquisite enough to write a paragraph about.
On the way out, I saw someone I know in the parking lot.
You see, that’s the thing about this lake. I’ve visited a thousand times, and each time I come, I see a handful of people I know.
This particular friend goes way back. Years ago, we used to work together. This week, he is at Lake Martin for a short family getaway.
With him is his wife, his mother-in-law, his four girls, and his girls’ friends. In other words: there are ten females, and one man.
This is recipe for a nervous breakdown.
“My mother-in-law is about to drive me nuts,” he said. “She makes me run around and do EVERYTHING for her. This morning, she had me ironing.”
“That woman is helpless,” he went on. “Sometimes, I don’t think my mother-in-law is even capable of wiping her own…”
Feet. That’s what he was going to say, kids. Because this is a family column.
Anyway, this water couldn’t look any better. There is a morning mist hanging in the air that makes the world look like a fantasy. I see an older man fishing in the distance, a young boy is steering their boat.
I am sitting cross-legged on a wooden dock while the cool air gets warmed by the sun.
At this stage of my life, I don’t take many photographs. What’s the point? They don’t do real life justice. But I do enjoy memories, and if I stare at this lake long enough I’ll have a few I can take with me.
So I’ve been looking at the water, wondering about my life. I will be visiting three states in the next few days, making speeches in each place, and it’s almost too bizarre to comprehend. I never thought I’d end up doing anything of the sort.
No matter how old I get, I am still a kid who considers himself a stray. And if I were being completely honest, sometimes I don’t know what I am doing with my life.
Still, for some reason, when I’m on this water I have a strange feeling that life knows what it’s doing with me.
Maybe this is the reason why old men take boys fishing on Lake Martin.