My cousin owns a beautiful place on Lake Waccamaw, where a house that my grandfather built in 1952 stands next to a sandy beach under bald cypresses. Across the road from the house is a canal where alligators swim and sweet bays grow wild.
Lake Waccamaw is a natural lake with some species that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Its origin, along with the other smaller Carolina Bay lakes, has been a subject of much research and speculation. The theory that the lakes are fed by artisian springs makes a lot of sense to me, since this property boasts one of the few artisian wells on Lake Waccamaw. The water rises through an old pipe and is icy cold and clear.
Thank God the alligators don’t seem to have any interest in the lake. That’s probably because it is sandy and clear (at least in front of “our” place), with water the color of iced tea. When the wind blows, it can turn up whitecaps and breakers. When it is still, it looks like glass. You can walk along a pier and see down to the bottom. It is shallow for a long way out, which tends to make it warm. This is good or bad, depending on your point-of-view. Kids love it. And it is a perfect place for sandcastles.
Swimming in Lake Waccamaw is not one of my favorite activities. If the wind isn’t blowing, it’s a little like taking a warm bath on a hot day. Usually, we’re happy on floats. It is a wonderful lake for boating. We’ve been out on sailboats, jet-skis, canoes, kayaks, speedboats, and pontoon boats. We cheer the trick water-skiers as they tear by, twisting and flipping over the wakes. Once we were picked up by the locals and whisked away to a great party. A flotilla of pontoon boats had hooked together and were grilling burgers onboard, drinking beer, and playing water volleyball at the far end of the lake. At Christmas, a wetsuited Santa on a jet-ski leads lighted boats around the lake.
Mostly, I love Lake Waccamaw for the family history and its serenity. There are two old gliders on a screened porch facing the lake that are perfect for reading and napping. Whenever I need to close my eyes and go to a peaceful place, I imagine that I’m listening to the waves lapping up on the shore. The house brims full of memories of my Aunt Willie Dell, Uncle Dallas, and Daddy. There’s a painting of a magnolia blossom that my mother painted in 1960, the year before I was born. Crumbly old black and white photos of Great Aunt Mildred and Great Aunt Addie in their bathing suits at the lake often resurface at family reunions. Floating on the edge of the lake is where, in 1985, my mother first confided her concerns to me about my father’s health, and where, for the first time, she spoke to me for hours about growing up during the depression. She told a story about hiding a six-pack of beer in the lake house in the 1950s, which was about as wild as my mother ever got, as far as I know. On that day, under the Spanish moss, under the spell of her gentle drawl, my mother became more than “just” my parent. Two years later, I spent my wedding night in the lake house.
My cousin Fred and his wife, Weezer, have made a lot of improvements as far as appliances and furniture, but there are a lot of features that have remained since the early days after it was built. It’s not a ritzy place. It has no air conditioning or heat, and it is no place for people with critter phobias. Most of the mosquitoes don’t make it through the window screens, but the old-fashioned screens don’t cover the windows totally. There are spiders and fire ants, and the lizards, although awfully cute when they puff out their red throats, don’t seem as cuddly on the inside windowsills. The house itself is built directly on top of a cement slab, so when there’s a lot of rain, the water seeps right up through the kitchen floor. Hurricanes flood it, and you can see the water marks on the bed posts. My friend Donna calls it the Red Bar Lounge, named for the rubbery red surface of the counter where we eat. The cabinets, like all the walls in the place, are constructed of unpainted dark knotty plywood, and the doors do not care to stay closed, occasionally giving an under-vigilant drunk a bonk on the head. Many of the dishes and much of the bedroom furniture have been there all my life. If the house were to be jacked up to build an foundation under it, it would surely fall apart from the termite and post beetle damage.
Still, I understand why my cousin refuses to make any substantial changes to the lake house. Our family has speculated for a long time that it was on its last legs, but yet it survived Fran, Floyd, and numerous tornadic storms. “I like it just the way it is,” Fred insists, and closes the subject. It is the only thing left that belonged to his parents. A browned, barely legible piece of paper remains taped next to the front door from Aunt Willie Dell with instructions to renters of the 1970s. The house at Lake Waccamaw is a time capsule in a rapidly changing world. I agree with Fred. I wouldn’t change a thing.