|Shoal(s) Creek Florence, AL|
|Bailey Springs Florence, AL|
If there is one thing I’ve missed in my adult life it’s what I and my friends called “going to the lake”. In 1920 the TVA Wilson Dam was built on the Tennessee River above Florence. It formed a huge lake and backed up what had been a small creek called Shoals. My older brother Ike built a house on shoals creek about 2 miles from the main lake. The creek there was probably a half mile wide and forty feet deep. The shores were rising hillsides covered with trees and vegetation. There were houses and cottages along the shore line with piers or boat docks of various shapes and sizes. The water was generally calm and of a green color. It was clean water and great for swimming ,skiing and fishing. Before I had access to a place on the lake I first learned to ski on the River below the dam with a fishing boat that was kept at the Florence Boat Harbor. This was right under the Bridge that goes from Florence to Sheffield. My brother Barry and his fiance taught me to ski there on the river one Saturday afternoon when I was 12 years old. But my real access to my beloved Shoals Creek was when brother Ike built his bachelor home there when I was a freshman in high school. He also put a boat in the water that was a red ‘winner” fiber glass boat with a 35 horse Evinrude motor.
About that same time my Daddy married Mama Gene and her family had a house 2 miles further up Shoals Creek where it was called Bailey Springs. So now I had access to a nice ski boat and two places on “the lake”. I realize now I identified with the lake in such a way that I have never lost my memory of and sensory connection with it. Across from the Bailey Springs house were high lime stone cliffs through which springs made their way down to the main creek. I was at the lake as often as possible which was frequently several times a week during the summer months. I often was with a friend such as Paul Holley, David Hakola or Barry Wood but also spent a lot of time there by myself. At the lake I could lay for hours on the water or in the sun on the deck and if I had someone with me do a lot of water skiing. I would take long boat excursions and go back into sloughs, park the boat and hike up the hillsides following springs that fed the creek. These places were totally virgin and isolated spots with only the sounds of the small water falls, birds and sometimes the hum of a distant boat. These solitudes have always been in my mind. Once I was frighteningly surprised by a sudden swarm of yellow jackets whose ground nest I had inadvertently stepped on. I rushed for the boat and 4 of the yellow devils managed to sting me first. I also went fly fishing frequently, especially when the willow flies hatched. These are waspy like insects (they are harmless) that appear by the thousands on the vegetation by the water’s edge and live for only a few days. You can fish with the actual flies or use artificial bait and usually catch as many blue gill as you desire. My brother Barry also showed the patience of Job in helping me to learn to slalom or ski on one ski. I had a terrible time learning. I must have tried hundreds of times to get up on one ski. But once I had mastered it that is the way I always skied and I got quite competent at it. I have never been more in my element than skiing on mirror calm waters of Bailey Springs. All my adult life I have used my memory of the look and feel of being at the lake as a way to calm myself and relax. I have requested, if possible that my ashes be tossed on the water beneath the cliffs at Bailey Springs after I am gone.
Daddy told me toward the end of my high school years of how much he worried about me being on the lake with all the possibilities of accidents and of drowning. Water is a serious safety hazard. One day I almost did have a horrible accident. I was slaloming behind my own boat- a 12 foot aluminum runabout with a 35 horse Evinrude. Two cousins form Mama Gene’s family were driving the boat and sitting on the deck rather than in the seats. As they turned sharply the boat jumped high on its side and they both tumbled out. One of the boys quickly got away from the scene to safety. But for two of us for what seemed like hours, I was skiing behind the driverless boat in a huge circle in the middle of the lake. As the boat would come back around to my cousin Knox in the water I would shout, “ What should I do, what should I do??” And his reply was always, “ Hang on, hang on” and so I did. Once in desperation, he even grabbed the ski rope as it came over his head and it cut his hand. I was praying that my boat. which was my fondest possession, would head to the shore and crash so we would be saved from its raging wrath. Eventually I fell and the boat continued in its angry circle like a roaring bull as it would go away and then make its way back close to us. Twice we actually went deep into the water to avoid being hit. The episode ended when the boat went into a very close spin and the ski rope got caught in the propeller and the motor died. Daddy did have something to worry about that Sunday afternoon when I was going to the lake. But I'm so grateful he did not stop me.