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R is for Rivers

April 21, 2015






My parents brought me home from the hospital to their house–our house–on Shoals Creek just off the Tennessee River.  My grandparents lived right next door. In fact, my grandfather had bought quite a bit of lake front property back when such land was affordable, before people began to realize the value of waterfront property because “they aren’t making any  more of it.”

We called our place the “little red house”–for obvious reasons (undetectable in black and white photographs), and while we didn’t live there long, my parents owned the house for years.  We never quite got over their selling it.  By that time, my grandparents had sold their home on Shoal Creek too, leaving us all land-locked for awhile.

At least until I was a teenager, I spent lots of time on the lake. We swam, fished, and boated.  All our picnics and ice cream socials were held there on the banks.  I was not much of a swimmer, but even if I had been, I’d have spent most of my time floating on an inner tube.  My sisters and I would float far out into the middle of the creek and beyond, acting as if we didn’t hear our parents or grandparents summoning us back to shallow water.

Lake living also guaranteed a steady diet of fried fish. Sure, we ate catfish, but I preferred crappie (pronounced  in Alabama with a gentile soft a, rhyming with poppy, not pappy) and bream.  The idea of such a meal without hushpuppies was unthinkable.

When I married, my husband’s family had a lake cabin just a few miles up the creek from our old place, and we often stayed a month or more in the summer.  By then, we knew all the stories of celebrities who came to town and stayed up and down the shore.  Cybil Shepherd’s grandmother’s home was nearby, so she was often seen water-skiing. The Osmond Brothers also rented a lake house when they were in Muscle Shoals recording.  The Allman Bros. stayed in a cabin just a couple of doors up from our place (mentioned in the Muscle Shoals documentary).

One of the charms of our cabin, especially in our early married years, was the absence of television.  Not only did we marinate in the lake morning, noon, and night, but we spent lots of time reading.  One particular summer, we lived there while we were building a house, so we read all the Tolkein books and the entire John Jakes Bicentennial Series (which can give a general ballpark time frame.)  Even our friends who visited felt comfortable wallowing on the couch with a book.  We also played hours and hours of card games–especially Shanghai, our favorite, most malicious, mean-spirited game.  We even had our own fish fryer the size of a barbecue grill, and it did not gather dust.

Over the last thirty years, we’ve lived within sight of water, if not always right on the shore.  By the time our youngest was born, we lived right across the street from the Tennessee River, and our children all learned to waterski.  When we moved to North Carolina, we bought a house on Gunpowder Creek, which flows, eventually, to the Catawba River.  With a dam just a few feet from our shore, we could sleep with windows open on mild nights and hear the water rushing over the dam.  We often had herons posing on our shoreline, and the neighbors had a couple of ducks they called Fred and Ethel that became insistent they be fed regularly .  Fred sometimes pecked on the glass door if they were slow to bring him his food.


Now we’re just up the hill from the shore of Lake Hickory on the  Catawba River.  As much as I love my home, the view out the picture window in the living room is one of the best features.  Every evening, we watch a different sunset reflecting in the water.  On the Fourth of July, we have the best view around of the competitive rounds of fireworks up and down the shore and the twinkling lights of boats who ride up to watch.

People are often expected to be ocean people or mountain people.  North Carolina offers easy access to both. But I can’t think of anything better than having the lake right here and Grandfather Mountain and Table Rock in view on a clear day.


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