I remember the lake before it was the popular tourist attraction it has become today. We did not own a lakehouse but my grandfather signed a 100-year lease on a lot that sat way back in Adams slough. There were only a few cabins in the slough, maybe five.
It was quiet and peaceful.
Going to the lake was always exciting.
That's where I learned to swim. When I was 2 years old, my parents bought me a bright green O'Brien life jacket. It was made entirely of foam. The story goes, when they put me in the water, my head went under and my butt popped up to the surface. I was upside down. But I guess it figured it out pretty quickly because I have been swimming as long as I can remember.
When I was maybe 8 years old, my parents tried to teach me how to ski. For hours I tried and tried only to be drug through the water until my hands could no longer grip the ski rope handle. Finally, after so many attempts, my dad gunned the boat motor. I popped up out of the water and I was skiing —for about two seconds, maybe one second. I was so excited I let go of the rope and down I went — hard. That was my final attempt. Skiing wasn't for me, but I could tube.
My parents could ski. My mom was good at it, too. Sometimes she would slalom ski almost right up to the dock. Sometimes she would launch from the dock. She seemed fearless.
I remember the first pontoon boat our grandfather bought. It was a Playbuoy and we thought it was something special. It was big and could fit almost our entire family.
On our maiden voyage aboard this fine vessel, my brother looks over at our grandfather and says, "Open her up Papa. Let's see how fast she'll go." My grandfather pushed throttle as far as it would go — we were still moving at a snail's pace. My brother then looked over at our grandfather with disappointment in his face and said, "Papa, I can ride my bicycle faster than this."
The next year he bought us a wave runner. It was a Yamaha, the purple and white one — y'all remember. It was March when our grandfather bought it and put it in the water. My brother begged to drive it. It was a warm day in March so our grandfather hesitantly agreed. My brother got on first and our grandfather climbed on behind him.
This was the first time my brother had driven a wave runner, maybe any type of watercraft. He pushed the starter button and it started up on the first stroke. I saw a smile come across my brother's face as he realized he was about to go fast. And right then, without warning, he gave the throttle all he had. A rooster tail shot up from behind the wave runner and it launched so fast my grandfather went tumbling off the back. And the day was warm but the water was not. I remember our grandmother standing on the dock laughing and laughing and laughing.
We spent many a morning and afternoon on that wave runner. But back then, we didn't go far because if something were to happen, we could be stranded. The lake was not full of boats. They were few and far between, usually fishermen. There were no wake boats, no 30-footers, and we were one of the few wave runner owners.
I remember one day in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, I ran out of gas on the wave runner and I had to swim it all the way to Real Island Marina. I guess it wasn't too far — we could see the marina from our slough — but it seemed like I was out there forever. Not one boat came by. Finally, someone at the marina spotted me and sent a boat out to tow me in.
In fact, the lake was so unpopulated at that time that we had a universal rule: We were not allowed to go past Kowaliga Bridge on boat or wave runner. Because if we weren't back in the time it should take to make the trip, it meant something might have gone wrong and someone would hop on the pontoon and come look for us.
I have to be honest, as we got older we would drive past the bridge over to Castaway Island. Back then, it was a fun place to visit. This was after the days of the amusement park, but people still enjoyed visiting the sandy beach there. But that was as far as we would venture. We didn't dare drive to Chimney Rock. It was just too far away. If something were to happen along the way, we might not ever make it back. So, we just didn't go that far.
One Fourth of July my uncle Eric, who is a talented singer, came up from Pensacola, Florida and he brought his karaoke machine along with him. At daybreak on July 4, he went out on the dock and sang the National Anthem across the water. Our neighbors who were miles apart came outside and before we knew it everyone in Adams slough was on their docks standing at attention or singing along. It was a special moment.
Lastly, I remember when you didn't pass another boat without everyone aboard both vessels offering a friendly wave. Gone are those days. Some still wave; I do. I can tell who the old-timers like me are because they are the ones who wave back.
I have seen the lake change so much over the past 40 years.
This week someone posted a video on Facebook of a wave runner coming with 2 feet of another boat. The driver was clearly harassing those on the boat. This is not OK. The lake is a place to get away from the monotony of daily routine and enjoy life. Life on the lake should be peaceful and laidback. It's a place we can all enjoy if we just show each other a little respect and consideration.
A lot of you will head to the lake this weekend to celebrate Memorial Day. Please be safe out there. Look out for others, wear your lifejackets, be cautious and have fun.
Carmen Rodgers is bureau chief of The Tallassee Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com