Going back to East Texas always stirs my mind into a whirlpool of memories. This area of pine woods was where I spent all of my holidays, as both of my grandparents lived in the area. My mom grew up in the small town of Marshall, Texas and my father grew up only a few miles away, in an even smaller town called Elysian Fields. I also spent every summer at nearby Camp Fern, a tradition in my family. Fern is where I learned to identify trees by their leaves, make banana boats over an open fire, and take walks in the woods exploring for animals, insects and secret hiding places.
So even just the smell of pine woods brings back sweet memories of childhood. On this trip, we stayed at a lakehouse owned by my uncle. The lake itself was built by my great-grandfather around 1910 with the help of a mule-team. My grandfather spent many nights out there with his brothers, exploring, fishing, eating. They kept a log of their activities "ate beans", "walked to town", "caught some fish". Perhaps this is where I get my love of journaling.
They would have family parties, barbecuing chickens in a pit in the ground. My family was centered around this area, so family parties meant dozens of people and lots of cousins playing together. They built a set of rings spanning across the lake on a metal wire that my grandfather used to be able to go all the way across without getting wet. He could even do it in adulthood, successfully swinging across fully clothed with even his shoes still on. The rings are long gone, with just the posts and wire dangling into the water.
A pier used to run out into the lake near the rings, a perfect place to cast a line for fish. The pier too is long gone, just the supports peeking out from the water.
My mother also spent many days of her childhood here, playing with her sisters, brother and cousins. I look up at the tall trees now and wonder how many children they have seen play games of tag around them or hide behind them.
Many of them have developed strange growths, some from healed over wounds from storm damage or healing over a wire or rope attached around the tree. They stand like old, wise men watching over the lake.
My mother remembers the dam that used to stand off the end of the lake. It used to stand bare, but is now covered by trees that light up in the sunset.
When my mother was young, this dam used to beckon to the children, inviting them to wade in the shallow water around it. They used to call it "Wonderland". How many children have found just such a childhood fantasy playground?
The lake stayed in my mother's family until my uncle bought out his siblings interests. He built a new cabin to replace the one that had fallen into disrepair. He and his wife have decorated it with old relics which lie around like ghosts from the old memories the lake holds.
My aunt and uncle are creating new memories, holding family reunions for our far-flung family. Knock-out roses splash across the front of the cabin,something my grandparents would have loved, both being gardeners themselves.
I had bought a crinum "Milk and Wine" lily and divided it, wrapping each division into a plastic baggy that I carried on the plane with me to Dallas. My goal was to plant one at each of my grandparents graves. But the cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried only allowed fake plants. Sitting on the porch at the lake house that night, I decided with my parents that planting the lilies at the lake might be a more fitting tribute to my grandparents. So they now sit along the front porch, waiting to bloom for the future generations who enjoy this Wonderland.