Even as a little boy, I thought the way people talked about the man they called ‘Biscuit’ wasn’t fit and proper: “Biscuit’s lazy.” “Biscuit’s dim-witted.” “Biscuit’s several slices short of a loaf.” “If you don’t do your schoolwork, you’ll grow up to be like Biscuit.” Those are just a few of the many unkind things people said about him.
If I ever knew Biscuit’s real name, I’ve forgotten it. He was a large man and some said he looked like Babe Ruth. The rundown shack he lived in sat precariously on the side of a hill. In warm weather, Biscuit would usually be sitting on his front porch when our school bus passed. Our driver would say, “Kids, there’s Babe Ruth. Give him a big wave.” We would, and he’d wave back. To this day, when I see a picture of Babe Ruth I think of Biscuit.
Biscuit had two main interests: Street preaching and fishing. He didn’t drive but had a friend named Paul who did. Most every Saturday morning, Paul would come get Biscuit, take him to town for preaching, and then take him fishing.
In Biscuit’s day, just about everyone went to town on Saturday, which meant the streets were crowded, a ready-made audience for street preachers. Several of those preachers rotated among the Western North Carolina towns of Andrews, Murphy, Robbinsville, Bryson City, and sometimes Franklin, and Biscuit had his favorites. So Paul would take him to the town where he could listen to one of his preferred preachers. Then they’d go to the nearest lake for fishing, either Nantahala, Fontana, Santeetlah, or Hiwassee.
One Sunday morning, my boyhood friend and I were outside our community church, waiting for the church bell to ring signaling that it was time to go inside. A group of men stood nearby, enjoying one last smoke before meetin’ time.
A newcomer joined the group and excitingly asked, “Did you fellows hear about what Biscuit did yesterday?”
“No,” one fellow replied, mocking Biscuit’s speech impediment. “What’s old Biscuit done now?”
“Word around town is that Biscuit saved a little boy’s life yesterday on Fontana Lake,” the newcomer said. “They say the little fellow fell in the lake and Biscuit pulled him out.”
The men laughed and expressed their doubts about the story.
But it was true. Several witnesses confirmed it. A youngster, six or seven years old, had wandered away from his parents, who were fishing. He got too close to the water, slipped, and fell in. Biscuit, hearing the frantic screams of the boy’s parents, threw down his fishing pole, jumped into the water, and pulled him to safety.
From that day on, I never heard anyone say anything unkind about Biscuit. In fact, some men from the church got together and fixed up his house. Biscuit…an unexpected, unlikely hero.
As I grew older and reflected on that day at Fontana Lake, it occurred to me that Biscuit was not the only hero. The other hero was Paul. It takes someone with empathy and compassion to become a friend and companion to a person with special needs. One dictionary definition of hero is “a person noted for courageous acts and nobility of character.” Biscuit displayed courage; Paul displayed nobility of character.
In our culture, we overuse the word hero, ascribing it to everyone from entertainers to athletes. By overusing it, we diminish it.
During our battle against COVID-19, there is certainly no shortage of real heroes, here in Washington County and nationwide. From front-line medical workers to the volunteers sewing masks, the names are far too many to list. You’ve read some of their stories here in the News & Neighbor.
May God bless and reward all our heroes during these challenging and difficult times.
After 57 years in the radio industry, Dave Hogan is enjoying his retirement in North Carolina. He’d love for you to say ‘howdy’ to him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.