(This is the first in a series of stories of a boyhood spent on Lake Guntersville. Welcome to Legends of the Cove.)
My parents bought our first waterfront property on Lake Guntersville in 1962. The lot was on a cove, quiet and sheltered. It was 50 feet wide and next to the community access lot. Our lot was small, but it was a beginning that would lead to a lifetime of great adventures, cherished memories, and a love of our beautiful lake.
To start at the beginning, let me provide a little family history. My parents were raised on small farms in Winston County in northwestern Alabama. My dad grew up with a plow line in his hand and the unchanging view of the backside of the mule he followed for hours on end. It was the only life he knew, but he also knew there was something better out there.
THE ARMY RECRUITER in downtown Haleyville had a ready offer for boys with greater ambition than the plow line. My dad went to the recruiting office, lied about his age, signed up, and laid low until the time of departure. When procrastination had its full measure, he announced to his parents at the dinner table that he had joined up and would be departing on the 6 a.m. bus.
With three dollars in his pocket and confidence in his heart, he began a new chapter. This chapter would see an assignment in Japan, marriage to his high school sweetheart, birth of his first son, and a return to Winston County four years later.
When they got home, the same dismal opportunities were available. However, the Army was hiring civilians in Huntsville for the rocket program. My dad interviewed and took the only opening available, a file clerk's job. He started from the bottom again.
I WAS BORN right before the move to Huntsville. It wasn't long until Lake Guntersville was a focus of my dad's new ambition, owning lakefront property. He would spend Saturdays with his two boys driving the shoreline of Lake Guntersville in our '62 Volkswagen Beetle.
TVA was selling tracts of land to developers; new communities like Pine Island, Preston Island, Snug Harbor, Cherokee Pines, and Sherwood Forest were being created. The developer, Dr. Moody Walker, would drive to the available properties with the Beetle in close pursuit. We saw them all.
The great dilemma was that a file clerk's salary hardly covered life's necessities, much less waterfront property. Anyway, it was great entertainment for a dad and his boys; and Dr. Walker liked my dad, his ambition, and the two lads in the back seat.
Eventually. the novelty began to wear off and Dr. Walker took us to the 50-foot lot on the cove and said, "This is the cheapest lot on the lake. I’ll let you have it for $1,750."
I'm sure Dr. Walker heard my dad's hard gulp to the closing offer as he replied, "Will you finance it?"
Well. it must have been an interesting conversation with my mother when we got home. They both knew there was no money for a down payment, nor much room in the budget for the $25 monthly mortgage payment. But providence would soon intervene.
Providence is a peculiar thing and appears in mysterious ways. ln this instance, it was a Sunday night. I was about three years old and croupy. My mother declared that she and my brother would attend the evening church services, and l would stay home while my dad watched me. It sounded like a good deal to both of us.
Once my mother left the house. the football game was tuned in on the TV and a pillow positioned on the couch. Soon dad was fast asleep. Seeing this, I realized that a rare opportunity had presented itself, for there on the end table was a pack of cigarettes and the magical Zippo lighter.
THAT ZIPPO lighter fascinated me. I had watched my dad strike the wheel and the flame appear thousands of times. I took my shot. I grabbed the lighter and slipped away.
One of my favorite hiding spots was underneath my parents' bed. It had a big headboard with drawers, so it created a space of about a foot underneath between the wall and the mattress. It was a perfect place for a small body to sit up, leaned against the wall.
The bedspread was lined with small frilly tassels. I opened the lighter, struck the wheel, and the magic flame appeared. I moved the flame to the first tassel, and it lit immediately. I pulled the lighter away and blew out the tassel. An exciting new game had just been invented!
With each new burning tassel, my confidence grew. I could wait a little longer each time before blowing out the flame.
But then it happened. One of the tassels would not go out. I blew, and blew, and blew. But it wouldn't I go out. The flame got bigger and bigger. Oops, it was time to hit the panic button.
I PUSHED myself out from I under the bed and with shrieks of terror ran into the den screaming, "The bed is on fire."
My dad sprang to his feet, looked at me with puzzled concern, and went into the bedroom to investigate. My goodness, the boy was right, the bed was on fire. My panicked animation suddenly became his. I remember standing in the hall watching him do superman dives with wet towels onto the burning bed. After a few minutes of superhuman effort, the fire was out.
The calm following the disaster only lasted a moment. Then my dad’s gaze turned to me. Uh oh! Now I hit my second panic button. Let's just say that the rod was not spared.
After the initial crisis passed, the recovery routine began. The insurance company's check covered the damage: 1 bed, 1 set of sheets, 1 of grandmother’s handmade quilts, 2 pillows, 1 bedspread, 5 towels, and repainting the room. Total value $250, which just happened to march the down payment required for the lake property.
This may not be the first time that arson was used to acquire waterfront property, but in this case, it was done in innocence and with only minor injuries, mostly to my backside.
(To be continued)