The Boys' Club
Thursday dinners at a hunting and fishing camp in North Carolina
My dad left my mom when I was 12, and Pop took me under his wing more than ever during that long, angry summer. We fished our way to an unspoken bond and caught a boatload of trout in the process. Recently, I thanked him for filling that void.
Photo: Todd Coleman
"Did you do it consciously?" I asked him.
"I don't think it was about being a teacher or a dad," he said. "You were my companion."
When I got older, I adapted Pop's still-water lessons to my other fishing spots, like the fast-moving rivers of Idaho and the saltwater flats of the Bahamas. Whenever I caught myself fiddling with my gear, or untying kinks in my line, I'd hear a familiar refrain: "You'll never catch a fish without your line in the water, Hunter." And after a good cast, I'd hear that same voice: "Attaboy."
It's past 11 p.m., and the last card game is over. I clean the fish Pop caught earlier in the day, pack it away in the blue Igloo cooler, and walk out to the porch while the men clean up and gather their things. For the first time, I notice the brass plaques on the rocking chairs memorializing departed club members, including Pop's old car pool buddies Hunter, McGuire, and Stephens.
I learned the ways of the world up here. Coming back reminds me of the lessons I soaked up at my grandfather's side
I ate one of my last dinners with my grandmother on this porch. Women aren't invited to the Thursday-night meals, but Mom Pat would come up on the weekends to join Pop and me from time to time. The night of that meal, my wife, Ellen, and I ate steaks and talked and drank wine with my grandparents until well after midnight—a Seniard Creek double date. It was Mom Pat who used to greet Pop and me back in Asheville when we returned from our fishing trips, waiting to look at the trout we'd caught. She'd make breakfasts of scrambled eggs cooked with tender pieces of the fish that Pop had smoked over smoldering fruitwood on the grill. She'd bake the fish whole, sometimes stuffed with lemon and herbs, and sometimes cooked plain on brown paper bags, which gave the fish a toasty flavor.
The moths dance in the porch lights as we say our good-byes to Clarence and the other stragglers. I ease the truck down the rutted road, and my mind wanders back to those brass plaques on the rocking chairs. My grandfather watches the road for deer from the passenger seat. "Hang on, old man," I think. "Hang on."