Feeling much in need of clearing the cobwebs from my mind, early last Friday morning I embarked on a 10 mile loop hike at East Fork State Park. I began at the Corps of Engineer’s visitors center by the dam. I won’t lie to you, my midpoint destination was the home of George and Ruth Ann Rooks close by the park entrance on the south side of the lake. With any luck I would arrive before they headed out to the county fair or to perform some volunteer service, which they do most every day.
Luck was not on my side. My arrival was delayed by at least a half hour on account of an encounter with that notorious black bear that’s been roaming the area and was spotted near George and Ruth Ann’s home a week earlier. Consequently, when I arrived at about 10:30 the only person there to greet me was Boots the cat. I was sorely disappointed, not only for missing out on some of Ruth Ann’s good cooking (I knew she wouldn’t turn a hungry weary traveler away from her door), but also because I wanted to tell George about my encounter with the bear.
I knew George and Ruth Ann wouldn’t mind my resting a spell on their back porch before the 5 mile trek back around the lake so I made myself comfortable and visited with Boot’s while dining on granola bars and cherries instead of Ruth Ann’s fine cooking. While resting I contemplated this week’s column, thinking I might write about my encounter with the bear; but having recently written about the bear’s visit to my backyard in Jackson Township I decided to save this story for another time. Instead, I’m going to share a story with you that I wrote seven years ago this month about the Ole Fisherman and his good wife, Ruth Ann. Enjoy.
An early morning mist drifted over the waters of East Fork Lake as George and Ruth Ann gently slipped their pontoon into the water. Their destination was a spot around the bend that has come to be known by locals as Rooks Hollow. The Ole Fisherman and his wife of 48 years (now 55) know every stump, twig, and ripple of that cove, and one of their greatest pleasures is bringing a pilgrim or two along to enjoy the fishing. On this cool summer morning the pilgrim was none other than your faithful columnist.
For the benefit of those who may not be acquainted with George and Ruth Ann, he retired as manager of East Fork State Park 20 some years ago. George has hands as big as a bear’s paws and he always puts me to mind of a giant but gentle grizzly. Like me, he writes a weekly column, “The Ole Fisherman,” for that other county paper. George’s gentle spirit is only surpassed by Ruth Ann’s. Her jolly disposition and sweet smile warm the hearts of all she meets. You never see George without Ruth Ann, and their joint service to the community is legendary, including upwards of 20 years as volunteers with Clermont Senior Services.
Getting back to my story of a pilgrim’s visit to Rooks Hollow, George kindly put a minnow on my hook and encouraged me to be the first to throw a line in, which I gladly did. He and Ruth Ann patiently watched for the couple of minutes it took before I had a hit and pulled in the first fish of the day, a nice sized crappie.
It didn’t occur to me until later that George and Ruth Ann, being the kind hearted folks they are, always let their pilgrim guest be the first to catch a fish. Having fulfilled this kindness, they went to fishing like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was as if the fish were just waiting for their minnows to hit the water, and crying out, “Over here, catch me, catch me.”
In the span of a half hour George and Ruth Ann had nearly filled the cooler, George laying claim to the largest catch, and Ruth Ann to the most caught. Meanwhile, I was scarcely getting a bite, which of course, George and Ruth Ann couldn’t help but notice. At one point, she laid her pole down to rest, no doubt exhausted from reeling in so many fish. George used this opportunity to suggest I use her pole for a while, thinking it might bring me some luck. It didn’t, and to add to the embarrassment of the moment, Ruth Ann took up the pole I’d been using and resumed flipping fish from the water to the cooler as though she was flipping flapjacks from the skillet to the table. Somewhat sheepishly, I told a story about a big fish I’d once caught as a boy, to which George and Ruth Ann nodded approvingly. My lack of prowess as a fisherman notwithstanding, I had a wonderful time at Rooks Hollow and the best part was yet to come.
It was late morning when we pulled the pontoon into George and Ruth Ann’s driveway. After unhooking and parking the pontoon she graciously asked if I’d like to stay for lunch. “Is a bluebird blue”? I asked in response.
I watched as George skillfully cleaned the crappie at his home made fish cleaning station in the side yard, setting a few aside for lunch and preparing the remainder to freeze. I took the lunch catch inside for Ruth Ann to fry and saw she was preparing a lunch of biscuits, fried potatoes, sliced tomatoes, canned sweet pickles, canned beets, and canned peaches – and I don’t mean the store bought kind. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the home made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Well folks, this pretty much sums up the story of a pilgrim’s visit to Rooks Hollow. It’s been seven years, but that meal is still as mouthwatering and delicious in my mind as if I’d eaten it yesterday. Now, you can understand why I was so hoping George and Ruth Ann would be home when I came out of the woods and made my way to their backdoor, half tuckered from wrestling that bear.
As it turns out, luck was with me after all. When George and Ruth Ann saw the note I’d left on their door they called to say how sorry they were to have missed me. Best of all, Ruth Ann said the next time I’m hiking in their neighborhood to call ahead and she will fix a good meal. I’m thinking this will be real soon; I just hope I don’t have to deal with that dang bear again.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township with his wife Yvonne.