The Old Man

By Danny Maybin

Whether I’m fishing or hunting, there are certain things I require in order to consider my excursion a success. Bag and creel limits are nuisances and bad weather is inevitable, but going home richer in spirit has no price tag. Here in the southeast, over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for the countless little backroad watering holes that are so familiar to anyone who has grown up here.

A little while back I went on a two-night fishing trip a little south of where I live. I looked forward to seeing my local friends as much as I looked forward to the fishing. There’s a little two-lane bar called “Pearls” that I always drop by if I’m in the area. If you hit it on the right days, there’s a band led by a woman named Anita that defines the word “Honky Tonk”.

Anita’s band was just cranking up when I came into Pearls at around six o’clock that evening. To me, walking into a comfortable old place with a steel guitar crying and the bass driving is like wearing your favorite jeans and putting your feet up on the table.

I had just placed my order and sat down. Anita was belting out a classic and the barkeep was wiping a glass. It was a snapshot in my mental album of best days ever, until the old storm door that serves as a front door scrubbed open. The bottom of that door has scrubbed the ground for as long as I can remember, and the sudden opening let sunlight pour in and briefly robbed me of my sight. After the door shut and my eyes readjusted, I could see an older man in a jean jacket, plaid shirt and a worn old western straw hat slowly but steadily walk in. He didn’t look at anyone or anything. He came in, turned right and slowly carried himself to a seat at the bar. By the time he was seated, there was already a beer in front of him- in a can, not a frosted mug.

On many of my previous visits, Anita, the band and I had spent countless hours talking about the interesting folks we have known and the joy of watching how our fellow man approaches life. This old man had suddenly piqued my interest, so I settled in to watch and learn.

There was a table of three or four younger fellows sitting at a table near the door and their laughter and loud conversation was really cutting into my ability to enjoy the whole environment, but I remembered that I was once young and loud myself. That allowed me to embrace their brashness.

One of the boys spoke up loudly to the old man, asking him if he “needed help with that barstool”. The music kept playing, but I had already lifted myself off my chair by the time the old man turned around. He didn’t scowl or say a word but when he looked at them, somehow that weathered face with more than a few scars and kind eyes firmly conveyed “It’s time to be quiet now”. I’ll never forget those eyes. It was like reprimanding a Sunday school class. He put a weathered hand that had seen more hard work than I’ll ever know on the bar and turned back around. The barkeep was looking at the young men and shaking his head at their disrespect when the old man did something I’ll never forget. He reached way down into his nearly white jeans and pulled out a hog leg pistol that looked more like a fence hammer than a gun. He laid it in a bar towel the barkeep had knowingly placed there. Then the bartender tenderly folded the towel around it and placed it behind the bar.

By this time, I was completely mesmerized, watching intently as all this played out before me.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught site of Anita, still belting out that great Americana. We caught each other’s eyes and I saw her give me a nod to go over and talk to the old man. I walked over and introduced myself and tried to not let my eyes bug out when his ancient but mighty hand gripped mine. I saw in his eyes every emotion of the human experience at once. I saw a man who knew no fear. I saw a man with compassion for others who had not yet attained understanding of their fellow man. I’m proud to say I bought him a beer before I left that evening. I don’t know how many fish I caught on that particular trip because I caught something infinitely more precious: the humanity of a hard life lived well.

Danny Maybin’s family have fished and hunted in the area of Lake Summit for at least six generations. He is a state firearms instructor a, blacksmith, musician/luthier, and his favorite, a fishin’ and hunting resort facilitator.