Here at Faded Glory, we get our share of fishermen. Most of them hail from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and the Carolinas, and they arrive in hopes of snagging trophy-winning, record catches of the various fish that abound in the waters of this region.
Here in the South, many of our menfolk are admittedly “hunter gatherers.” Ray Whitlow, before he died, was a typical example of the “hunter gatherer.” For many (in addition to beloved football and NASCAR), hunting and fishing are many times the sports of choice. The bragging value of trophy-quality kills and catches far outweighs the bragging value of the sheer quantity of fish and game taken over a lifetime, and stories abound about “the one that got away.” If you spend much time with a fisherman, you can, over the years, listen to the rollicking tales about that monstrous “hawg” of a bass that escaped the net, and you literally detect his length, girth and weight increase slightly with each telling. Believe me, folks, I spend many long hours with optimistic fishermen on the porches of Faded Glory. For these folks, “Orca” truly lives (as a bass, bream, trout or catfish) in many a remote freshwater pond in small sleepy southern towns here in north Georgia.
From a financial point of view, fishing and hunting have become guilt-free, leisure-time indulgences for many a southern male; and some females as well. For legions of these hunters, $10,000 to $15,000 bass boats and multi-thousand dollar gear and togs now define the hobby. Even today’s hunters find it difficult to hunt that elusive sixteen-point buck without a $20,000 four-wheel drive pickup, hand-inlaid Browning hunting rifle with German scope, and, of course, the “home-away-from-home” portable tree stand.
Throughout Georgia’s spring and summer fishing season, Faded Glory Farm hosts many well-heeled fishermen who come to fish the waters of Lake Blue Ridge, Notteley Lake, or Lake Chattuge, as well as a host of other legendary fishing destinations here in the mountains. To some of the folks who arrive here, it is all about the fishing, while others come just to get away from home and merely try to personify the consummate fisherman.
That takes us to Oscar Billingsly, a very laid-back fisherman and frequent guest at the Inn. Tall and lanky, always disheveled, without a spare ounce of fat on his body, Oscar seems to cherish every waking moment during his stays at Faded Glory Farm; and although he doesn’t say much, Oscar has become a friend of mine, as well.
About four years ago Oscar first came to visit the Inn from his home in Cougar Creek, AL, near Eufala. I remember that Isabel looked a little skeptical when Oscar arrived in his road-weary and ancient navy blue 1973 Nash Rambler wagon with a badly-dented aluminum Jon boat tied to it’s roof. Oscar appeared to be far from affluent, white-haired, animated for his age — and extremely approachable, likable, and pleasant.
Oscar arrived that day with no reservation; but, luckily, Isabel had Suite #3 empty due to a no-show. Although Isabel is seldom quick to judge, she had feared that this vagabond wouldn’t have enough money to pay for his stay, but Oscar surprised us all by paying his bill up-front – in cash – and Isabel rested easier. Funny how folks immediately judge each other based on outward appearance. I wonder how often they are correct.
During the early part of Friday afternoon Oscar worked preparing his tackle and talking with three would-be fishermen from Marietta. Even I could see that they had all but written Oscar off as a nice old man but not a viable fishing competitor. Oscar was admittedly a meat fisherman, not a trophy hunter. His fishing gear was “off the shelf” K-Mart equipment, and as I remember, he was using plastic egg cartons to separate and carry his hooks, swivels, lures and sinkers. I think that we can describe Oscar as a true minimalist.
Later that Friday afternoon, as he was leaving the Inn, Oscar approached Micah Davenport and asked directions to Lake Blue Ridge. Micah was able to point him in the right direction. On his way out through the front vestibule, he met Isabel and asked her if she thought that the Inn’s cook might be willing to cook his catch. Being Faded Glory’s principal cook, Isabel happily agreed to do him this favor. Frankly, I believe that Isabel didn’t give his request much thought because she had mentally dismissed him as a ‘player’ in the fishing venue.
By 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, five different fishing parties had left the parking lot at Faded Glory to get in some “lake time” on Lakes Blue Ridge and Nottely. Because the majority of our guests were fishing, dinner was delayed and scheduled loosely for 8:30 p.m.
The time passed quickly for me. Fortunately, I became involved in lengthy “toss and catch” games with three somewhat clumsy children brought by the Haverford family who were visiting from Dunwoody; and after running myself to virtual exhaustion, I was able to catch a long nap out on our shady porch.
The day’s ‘fishing expedition’ was far from my mind as our exhausted fishing parties began returning from the lakes. As the fishermen began to gather on the white wicker furniture on the porch, the wonderful tales of the water began to take shape: “that !#€%?#£ motor wouldn’t start;” “too many water-skiers on the lake;” “that five pounder just slipped right out of my hands . . .” With everybody back but Oscar, it looked to Micah and Isabel that Isabel would have to break out the frozen hamburgers to complete the meal.
Minutes later, a clatter was heard from the lower part of the driveway as Oscar’s rusty Rambler began it’s ascent from Route #60 to the portico at the end of our side porch. After a short silence, followed by assorted metallic clanking sounds, I heard Oscar’s voice calling. “Can I please get a hand down here?” Micah and Isabel responded first, followed by two or three of the younger fishermen who had been relaxing on the porch.
The tailgate of Oscar’s wagon was up, exposing the huge, still-wet tail of a monstrous flathead catfish. A gasp went up as it twitched and flopped feebly in the night air. “Holy s____t, how much does that thing weigh?” asked Bruce Cogburn, one of the younger men from Chattanooga. “Sixty-six pounds, they said, when the Fish and Game officer weighed it at the put-in,” was Oscar’s reply. “It sure was hard getting him into the boat!”
Based upon the look on Isabel’s face, she was having doubts about agreeing to cook Oscar’s catch. “And who’s going to clean this monster,” she ventured.
“I’ll be happy to clean him, ma’am; I clean these fish all the time,” said Oscar. “Catfish are my favorite fish dinner. I’ll cut ‘im up into steaks if y’all will help me to eat him.” Several fishermen in the group asked if they could have their picture taken with this lunker before it was cleaned; and all of us, including Cinders and I, were anticipating our best catfish dinner ever. The catfish, combined with Isabel’s golden brown fried hushpuppies and boiled red Georgia potatoes and greens, insured that nobody went hungry that night at Faded Glory Farm.
Needless to say, some of the folks are still talking about that fresh and delicious feast to this very day; but not Oscar, he just comes and goes quietly with little or no fanfare. He just likes to fish . . .