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.
Nona - March 4, 2019 7:16 am
We are all strays. In need of a Savior. We all are only to feel complete in Him.
We are orphans. In need of adoption. He adopted us with His blood so we wouldn’t feel like a stray.
John 10:10 I’ve come To give you life and to give it to you abundantly. You aren’t a stray. You are a child of the MOST HIGH KING.
Larry Hardin - March 4, 2019 9:17 am
Sean, If you love Lake Martin, you should come up and try Lake Guntersville.
David Holley - April 1, 2019 4:37 pm
Larry, been trying to get you down to Martin for years.
Karen - March 4, 2019 9:32 am
I have wonderful memories of days on the lake and the river. Even one afternoon makes you feel like you have had a vacation. You are not a stray, Sean. You are part of a family that holds you in their hearts. Even if you don’t know it, you are loved.
Elizabeth Edens - March 4, 2019 11:17 am
I myself am a french fry connoisseur. A good fry is hard to come by. I too love them enough to write a paragraph about them.
Thanks for another great read this morning. Makes my coffee more enjoyable.
CathtRixie - March 4, 2019 11:44 am
If world leaders had a summit on Lake Martin we would have world peace. Hands down my favorite place on earth. The smell of pine trees, the sound of water lapping on the shore, the memory of my grandfather taking me in his red boat all over. Nothing like it!!
Camille - March 4, 2019 11:47 am
My husband orders “drawn” butter to use as his french fry dip. It depends on the type of place whether he has to clarify that as “melted.” If it’s a really fancy place I suppose he could clarify that as “clarified” butter. I just get a baked potato and they know what to do.
Candi - March 4, 2019 11:54 am
I also dip my fries in ranch! Love your stories.
Toni Eno Adcock - March 4, 2019 12:27 pm
Lake Martin was our home for almost 30 years. Oskar’s and Niffers – a required stop at least once a week. And then there’s Poplar Dawg. Oh m.
Kathie Kerr - March 4, 2019 12:30 pm
You’re not getting any younger. Better start eating more salads and fewer fries. Or, at least lay of the French dressing.
Steve Winfield - March 4, 2019 1:10 pm
Wind Creek Park on Lake Martin was completely different in the 60s. Our church did a group camp there every year and dad would also take my brother and me often. They had a bunch of little cabins to rent, trampolines dug into the ground and a tiny amusement park with rides. The store there was packed with useless trinkets for us to buy. On the front porch was an early 60s version of a video game. A steering wheel was connected with a rod to a matchbox car behind glass. A big plastic drum with roads and scenery would rotate and you steered the car. It cost a dime to play. Had a Dick Tracy theme to it.
Barbara Pope - March 4, 2019 1:44 pm
Lake Martin is beautiful but I’m thinking Lake Harding would be more your kind of lake. Much more affordable and just lovely in the fall.
Linda Thacker - March 4, 2019 4:02 pm
I agree. Lake Harding is a treasure. I have friends who live there. I didn’t know it existed until I visited them.
Jack Darnell - March 4, 2019 2:18 pm
We loved Lake Manatee in Florida, there is where our memories were made, even in a Fold-a-Boat with a trolling motor, eating Crappie three times a week all winter…. Oh well, Lake Martin sounds like the place of memories, but then you make memories come alive no matter where you are, that is the magic of your writing. Thanks, now I will go out and cut grass and act like it is a calm lake.
Sherry & jack
D B Mullis - March 4, 2019 2:39 pm
This IS the reason we live on Lake Martin!!
brennie143 - March 4, 2019 2:47 pm
You are talking about an area on Lake Martin that is our stomping grounds. Oskars and Niffers are within a stones throw from where we sit on the screened in porch (not out in the sun much anymore, been there-done that, got the sunburn). Nothing like being at the lake. Probably true for any lake, anywhere. We always know our heartbeat will slow, our thought processes will be more contemplative, and our faith will be stronger upon arrival at the lake. The scenery, the animals, the air, the pace, the little 150 year old church we attend. All go together to make it our “little bit of heaven”. All are welcome, at the lake and heaven.
Trina V. - March 4, 2019 2:50 pm
I live about 5 miles from Lake Martin, but my heart is on Smith Lake. I’m so excited about retiring on June 1 and moving to my piece of Heaven on Earth. But I will miss Oskar’s!! They do have the best fries, ranch dressing, and wood-grilled burgers! Oh! Can’t forget their chicken fingers and special sauce. Now, I want Oskar’s…
Mary Rice - March 4, 2019 2:55 pm
This has nothing to do with lakes or fishing or a boy who needed and still needs a father. I read your columns twice daily; once in my email and once on Facebook and I have been a fan since I read the first one. I have always wanted you to tell your stories closer to where I live but I understand why you would never come to south Florida. It’s becoming one huge traffic jam with apartment complexes popping up like mushrooms in the Spring. Today I checked out your upcoming events and learned you are coming to Lake City, Florida in November. Now that’s a long way off and many things can change so I want you and Jamie to be extra careful in your travels. I fully expect you to be there so this older lady can have a dream come true. You got to be there cause it’s my birthday and I’m already making plans.
Big HUG to you and Jamie and the dogs.
Linda D. - March 4, 2019 3:30 pm
I know just what you mean about Lake Martin, Sean. We live about a half hour’s drive from our lakeside cabin up there, and once the weather turns warm, it’s where I want to be, unplugged and off the grid (comparatively speaking) and relaxing. Last year was rough, and illness prevented our enjoying our little place there very much, but I intend to make up for lost time this year. Oskar’s and Niffer’s are also our go-to places when we don’t have the grill fired up. So glad to know you love it up there, too.
Patricia Pope - March 4, 2019 3:39 pm
The life lessons surpass the joy; thanks again Sean❤️
Gordon - March 4, 2019 3:45 pm
Sean-My granddaughter dips her fries in ranch dressing, also. Nothing wrong with that. ?
Carol - March 4, 2019 4:13 pm
Your making memories and life a lot happier and better for us, your fans , your readers!!
Thank you Sean , FOR ALL THE MEMORIES!!
Myra Guca - March 4, 2019 4:39 pm
I think Niffer’s makes the BEST burgers on the planet! I’m an unapologetic ‘dipper’ in mayo, but now I’m thinking I’ll ask for ranch next time.
Bill - March 4, 2019 4:54 pm
Sean, You bring back great memories. I had a cabin on lake Martin for a few years.Wonderful spot to unwind. Do you know OsKar is a female? Just liked that name. Great place to eat. Anywhere on the lake is a beautiful place to be for all except three holiday weekends a year. Then you might get run over by a wild kid or crazy (and probably drunken) adult on a speeding boat!
Dell - March 4, 2019 5:38 pm
I know a guy who can help you with real estate should you need him. Lake Martin, Key West & Jimmy Buffett are his passions
Margaret Vandall - March 4, 2019 6:01 pm
I love all of your memories!!
Jerre Peak - March 4, 2019 6:18 pm
Lake Martin is a very, very, beautiful place. Before my bad back problems, I use to bass fish all over Ala., Ga., and Fla. Lake Martin was by far my most favorite place to fish. It was about an hour and a half drive one way drive, but I still fished it every week…sometimes two times a week. I’ve caught thousands of spotted bass there over the many years I fished. Very beautiful, clean, water and scenery !
Connie Havard Ryland - March 4, 2019 6:58 pm
I love Lake Martin. I love to fish anywhere but Lake Martin is a wonderful place. I’m glad you had a chance to rest and recharge. Safe travels.
Edna B. - March 4, 2019 10:14 pm
I love all the different memories that your stories evoke. You have a wonderful day Sean. Hugs, Edna B.
Howard Yeager - March 5, 2019 4:22 am
Young Sean, you’d have been better printing what your friends mother in law was ACTUALLY incapable of wiping, rather than admitting what you do perfectly good french fries!!
Shelton A. - March 5, 2019 5:47 am
Sometimes, strays make the best dogs. I have a pretty good one right now. If you’re a stray, then you turned out to be one of the best kind. The kind that reminds us what our better self should be like-from your own experiences and other folks you write about.
Chris Dendy - March 6, 2019 9:45 pm
As always enjoy your articles. I had to smile on this one. My son lives near the two restaurants you mentioned on Lake Martin. I too have eaten at Niffers. :-)))
Mande - March 11, 2019 5:29 pm
This is one of my favorite places in the world and I’m a regular at those restaurants. I have been an outreach worker in rural Alabama for 20 years and lately you have mentioned some amazing places that no one knows much about. If you want to try some where else around here- you should visit Beauregard Alabama and offer to help with tornado recovery. It will be life changing…
Cameron Edgar - December 23, 2020 6:08 pm
Sean this is beautiful love to hear you speak.