Summer, 1972. I was 12 years old, my brother Dan was 10, and my cousin David was 11. We were invited to spend 6 weeks with our grandparents at the family cottage on Moore Lake. It was heaven.
We had all passed “the swimming test “ which involved swimming from our dock to the neighbor’s dock and back. This meant we were allowed to drive the “little motor boat” on our own, without adult supervision. The little motorboat was a gray steel rowboat with four seats and a 5.5 horsepower Johnson outboard motor on the back. It chugged slowly and loudly around the lake.
Back home in the suburbs of New York and Atlanta, parents drove us everywhere. But in the little motor boat on Moore Lake, we had freedom and independence. There were plenty of places to go. At the head of the lake, near the falls, was a marina. It was two stories with everything from groceries to fishing tackle and water skis. Of course, there was a candy counter that garnered most of our attention. The marina sold Shell gas and worms right on the dock for our morning fishing trips.
At the other end of the lake, but just around the point from our cottage, was the Noble Motel. It had a full dining room and bar, gasoline, and yes, another candy counter. To motor around the point, dock successfully at the Noble, pick out a Cadbury bar, and dock safely back in our white boathouse could provide entertainment for an entire morning.
We also fancied more adventurous, rugged destinations – across the lake to the rocks; up the creek to Black Lake, through the narrows into East Moore, and down the river to Eliot’s Falls. Each of these excursions was an adventure for us. We’d pack sandwiches and fishing tackle, swimsuits and towels, always ready for fun.
One time, we fished in Black Creek in bright sunshine in the middle of the day. We hadn’t brought along a full tackle box, because the fish never bite at that hour, do they? Wouldn’t you know it? We caught two nice bass. A shoelace from one of our sneakers had to serve as a stringer to bring the fish home. We knew how to clean the fish, and our grandmother knew how to cook them. She always made a wonderful, delighted fuss over any fish we brought home.
In the early 1970s, most of the eastern side of the lake was undeveloped. We could park our boat in a sheltered cove and spend a few hours exploring the woods or jumping off the rocks into deep water. It felt so remote to us that we often skinny-dipped completely naked, not realizing we could easily been seen from across the lake through binoculars.
To finish off our summer, we planned to camp on the very top of the rocks. First, though, we decided we needed a dock for our boat. We borrowed some tools and two-by-fours from grandpa’s toolshed. Then we found two recently fallen trees and cut them into 10-foot lengths. We built a crib out of the two–by-fours and laid the trees in them. It was a mighty struggle but in the end, we had our own private dock.
We heated a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew over the fire for dinner. Then we rigged cheesecloth over some sticks we found to make crude mosquito nets over our heads where we stuck out of the top of our sleeping bags. I was so relieved when Cousin David bravely volunteered to sleep near the edge of the cliff that dropped 40 feet to the lake. Somehow, eventually, we went to sleep.
In the morning, I made bacon and eggs over the fire. My brother held a flimsy paper plate as I transferred the last of the bacon to it. Unfortunately, I also managed to drip a few drops of sizzling hot bacon grease onto the back of his hand. The plate went flying and the bacon landed in the dirt. We rinsed it off and ate it anyway.
We loved the fact that our grandparents provided very little supervision compared to our parents. But they did take good care of us, fixing all our meals and offering pies and tarts from the local bakery for dessert. There were 3 bells that were used to call us to meals – a tiny bell for breakfast, when we would presumably be close by; a regular size bell for lunch; and a giant bell that called us to dinner even if we were out in the boat or down the shore.
It almost goes without saying that there was no TV at the cottage; no internet or phone; not even a radio. In the evenings, we played cards or read or talked. Cousin David was from the South and taught us to play Canasta. My brother and I made merciless fun of his southern accent, since there were two of us and only one of him. But it was all in good fun and we grew closer that summer than we ever had been before. At the lake, in the summer, is where bonds are made that last all year or perhaps even a lifetime.