The Boys' Club
Thursday dinners at a hunting and fishing camp in North Carolina
All over the South, similar rituals still unfold in old-fashioned clubs like this one—places where young guys like me discover what it means to be men over fishing poles, gunsights, and big, raucous meals with their fathers and grandfathers. Long before I became a professional cook—and a city boy—I learned the ways of the world up here. Coming back reminds me of the lessons I soaked up at my grandfather's side.
Photo: Todd Coleman
I was 16 when I was deemed old enough to dine at this table. I no longer try to remember every joke told, but I've learned the three prevailing rules of the meal: Don't ask for a glass of white wine, don't make the mistake of wearing tasseled loafers, and if you're a lawyer who is wearing tasseled loafers, chances are the doctors are already giving you hell.
Many of the first members of this club were doctors; it was their sons' generation that voted Pop in after he retired from running the Gerber baby-food plant in Asheville, in 1983. In fact, there are so many doctors sitting at this table tonight, including Pop's internist, Miles Elmore, that I realize the old man is safer up here than he is back home alone.
Clarence's cooking is as good as I remember it: The tenderloin is rosy pink and shot through with the flavor of the herbs; the corn bread is moist thanks to the addition of canned corn. Before long the table is cleared and plates of homemade blackberry-peach pie are passed. Coffee is poured from the metal percolator. The men move into the front room to play a card game—a glorified version of Old Maid—called F--- Your Buddy. We each ante up $1. Cigars are lit, the jokes get dirtier, and the laughter gets louder.
Earlier that afternoon, I fished Seniard Lake with my grandfather. I treated it like the day I was married, slowing down time, savoring the details. I helped Pop into the aluminum, flat-bottom boat, the same one we used to navigate this lake when I was a kid, and paddled out to where the fish were rising.
Fishing has always been central to the Seniard Creek ritual: I can still remember the feeling of excitement as I helped Pop pack the back of his car just so with the blue Igloo cooler, the fishing vests, the fly rods, and a bag full of sandwiches that my grandmother, Mom Pat, had made for us to eat while we fished. We'd often pick up Seniard Creek members Irby Stephens, Joe Hunter, and Mickey McGuire—the hearing-aid patrol, Pop called them—for the 45-minute drive from their homes in Asheville to the camp in remote Henderson County.
It was Pop who taught me how to cast a line: elbow in, snap your wrist. I learned to keep my fly line taut and straight on the water. "When the trout takes the fly, set the hook!" he would always say. Pop showed me how to use the deer-hair caddis flies that his friend Dr. Stephens would tie by hand and give to me every Christmas. He always handled the trout with care, holding them with a surgical towel dipped in lake water so as not to damage them upon release.