RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Lure of the lake invites us all to come home

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

MILL CREEK – The old boat dock is bathed in fall light, the kind that burns in the oak leaves and in the bald cypress. Fifty shades of golden.
Nobody much is around.
Pickwick Lake is empty this time of year, which makes no sense to me. This is the best time to be on the water, when an occasional fisherman is the only traffic and the infernal jet skis have gone to their corrugated garages for the season.
To expect this kind of peace on the water is unrealistic, at least until after Labor Day, when the weekenders and day-trippers find the football schedule and their television remotes. I turn off the pontoon motor and savor the silence, remembering boats in my past.
I once used a red wooden skiff called the Row-Ho to navigate these shores. A friend made the boat for me, and when new, it was a thing of beauty. It had mahogany trim and brass appointments. It was the perfect size, too, a two-person skiff, but with room for any driftwood or flotsam I wanted to drag home.
Only trouble was the boat’s weight, inordinately heavy, meant for steadiness when the yachts and the bass boats flew by and swamped us smaller craft. I could not manage it alone. It took two, sometimes three, people to slide it from the bed of my pickup into the water. And then the helpers reasonably expected an invitation to go along for the ride.
As a result, the Row-Ho mostly sat in my backyard, a dark-red reminder of that saw: Be careful what you ask for … The boat on its side and on land made me feel guilty each time I passed it. Now its bottom is rotted and full of leaves and the old boat is strictly yard art.
The Row-Ho is not to be confused with the front-yard boat leaning against a giant cedar at the end of the driveway. It is a Stouter from the Gulf Coast, a famous brand of wooden boat built for decades in the Mobile area. I hauled it home from Pine Level, Ala., on its own trailer.
The idea was the fix it up and use it, but my late husband had a realistic streak. “By the time we finish renovating, there would be nothing left of the original,” he said.
But I wasn’t about to toss such a graceful old boat on the burn pile. That’s when we hauled it to the cypress, turned it on its side and dolled it up with asparagus fern and old minnow buckets and such. Now it points like an arrow to the house, probably not a good idea.
The old pontoon I use today belonged to a good friend who grew weary of its problems. Boats always have needs, like babies and old people. He was ready to get rid of it, and I was missing the lake. These things often work out.
Pontoon boats don’t have the romance or fine lines of the wooden skiffs, but they may be the most versatile of any water craft. You can cruise or fish and run right up to the shore. You can leave the sofa and be on the water as nature intended in a matter of minutes. This is my third pontoon boat.
I don’t know why I’m happiest on water, but I am. Maybe because my first memories are of a wooden boat on Pensacola Bay, Fla., rocking and rolling on that Coke bottle green sea. Maybe it’s like JFK once said of the ocean: “… when we go back to the sea … we are going back from whence we came.”
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.