It is the stillness that reaches me first each time I think of the lake. The cove where my cousin's house is built is small and narrow -- just enough room for one boat to comfortably turn in, idle for a while, and then turn around to head back to the lake's wider stretch of water. It is shaped like a finger potato. The lake's surface, especially in the morning and late evening, is still, dark and calm. Smooth with just the slightest ripple when a young fish pierces its surface seeking a live fly or mosquito.
My grandfather loved to fish on the lake and now his great-grandson does the same -- hours on end, line in the green-gray water, waiting, and then waiting some more for the elusive nibble to break the calm. It requires great patience, watchfulness and the absence of human sound except for one's breath gently stirring the air.
One has to get up early or stay late to catch such peacefulness, for the strongest sunlight hours on Labor Day weekend at the lake are full of noise -- the slap of inner tubes and boat cushions being bounced into the water for the swimmers, beer tops popping, and the periodic scraping of chairs on the floating pier by the sunbathers positioning themselves to catch the maximum rays.
The distant hum of speedboats and the lapping of their waves mingle with the excited voices of the brave group (mainly children) venturing to the "other side" where the Carolina red-clay bank with its tall pines extends into the water all mushy and cold. Parents shout warnings to their children: "Put on your life jackets -- the water is dark and if you go under, we won't find you."
The older children shoot BBs into the woods (usually away from the youngsters), while the older generation yells from the house, making sure no one has starved (only hours after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, grits, bacon and toast). On the pier, people laugh and catch up on life stories -- surface stories, mainly. The deeper conversations where one's real stories are shared are reserved for more sheltered places than the pier -- a walk in the woods or a far corner of the porch. Open soul-baring and airing among the masses of this family rarely, if ever, takes place.
At midday, the pier dwellers scramble up the hill for Sunday dinner after being summoned by their mothers and aunts, who have been cooking holiday feasts for longer than they can remember. All of the fathers and uncles, who did the grilling or supervised such efforts, are gone now.
As people gather, those newly arrived from church mimic the earlier marveling at the changes in the children -- unseen for a year. No one mentions, except in later whisperings, the changes in the adults, although they are surely there -- the shorter statures, the grayer hair, the deeper lines and thicker waists, and in some, a more pronounced lack of coherence. Yet, their essence -- the parts that we love and that serve to reassure us -- is the same despite the distance of a year's time. By day's end, one has absorbed such changes into the mind's eye, readying for next year's readjustment to time's effect on us all.
Although we change, the Sunday dinner is timeless -- a "planned potluck" of barbecue, string beans with yellow potatoes, collards, potato salad, deviled eggs (no paprika) and green chilled salad made with lime jello, sour cream and pecans. Some southern gastronomic delights simply defy explanation. All that is topped off with myriad desserts such as mile-high strawberry pie, double-chocolate gooey brownie delight and, if one is very lucky, homemade peach ice cream. Nowhere else am I physically able to go back for thirds. My stomach simply seems to expand to accommodate this food -- perhaps knowing that it will be a long time before it experiences such wonders again.
At day's end, as I pull away with my daughter to head home, the holiday's noise, food, company, laughter, cool water and dark pines all have their place. But it is the stillness of early morning when the mist rises off the water and late evening as the sun sets in all its pink and orange glory in front of Nanny's Mountain that renews me for the coming autumn and winter months until next year's summer's end.