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The River ... or is it The Lake?

Posted: October 28, 2010 6:50 p.m.
Updated: October 29, 2010 5:00 a.m.

As many Camdenites and others did, I had a great summer on The River, or was it The Lake? The River is what many of us aging boomers call Lake Wateree. Fifty years ago, that moniker was associated with everything about "Wateree" Lake. I pondered that thought as I reflected and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon breeze from the shores of Camp Lystra. Today, some changes are quite apparent, and some changes are barely noticeable. In reality, some features that appear to be changed are unchanged. Hidden from the quick eye are many of its unchanged features.

Camdenites have sought refuge from the blinding humidity of a summer in the Wateree River Valley for over 200 years. In the early 1800s, Camden's refuge was the Old Factory Pond and Kirkwood. Many private millponds and our county park provided relief until Duke Power dammed the river at Eagle's Nest. Once discovered, this impoundment became the designation of choice. Many Camdenites took off to The River, or was it The Lake? You know, it all seems the same to me.

The most glaring change is the size and use of the houses that dot the shoreline. Used as yearlong residences, some of these structures are huge and very elaborate. The lawns are all well landscaped and manicured. Although new in construction, I prefer to call these houses updated. Our "summer residence" was a two-room cinderblock house with a bath. The plumbing system was straight "river" water. The family room was the screened front porch. Today, Florida rooms and cedar decks are the family rooms. Child labor was used to build most of the "piers" in our cove. Today, they call these structures docks. Many of these docks are the floating type. In my youth, floating docks were rare. In our cove the only "floating dock" was the ski jump that we had to move to the shores of the Shaw Rec Area by order of the Coast Guard, or was it DNR? It all seems the same to me.

The other real noticeable change is in the size and speed of the boats. In particular, "fishing" boats have advanced to a very different level. One starts by loading up your 150-horse-powered bass-boat with every known electronic device and blasting through the coves, stopping only to make a dozen or so quick casts. If you behave this way, you are affected by a condition that I cal, "fish-fever syndrome." This is an acute "river" condition. In my youth, my grandfather would put-put around in a 10-horsepower, plywood boat to his "secret fish'in holes." This was stealthly done. Once there, he would anchor and settle in for at least a half day of "talking" to the fish. Daddy John would also talk to the turtles, birds, and snakes. This was a chronic "river" condition.

Shoreline or pier fishing has not changed. However, most of the good old fishing holes are gone. Many of the old-timers made fishing holes at the end of their piers. One family submerged an entire kitchen at the end of their pier. The need to "river" fish has taken on different techniques, and equipment. The cane pole with a cork is unchanged. Impelling another fish on a barbed hook to catch a bigger fish has not changed. If you have the most modern equipment, or you are cane pole fishing, it all seems the same to me.

One still sees the slow moving pontoons. The reason these boats move slowly has not changed. You cannot enjoy your cold beverage unless you are cruising. The changes that have occurred in pleasure boating are the size and horsepower of the ski-boats. When I grew up on The River, we had a 35-horsepower Johnson Sea Horse pushing a 25-foot plywood boat. Today, the norm is at least 100 horses. Today, plywood boats are considered exotic. However, the use of the ski-boat is still the same as it was 50 years ago. People still zoom about the lake at light speed, with their kids, neighbors and Aunt Modean clinging to an artificial rubber raft. Today's chaotic addition is the Jet Ski. These Hell's Angels on water have developed a love affair with many including this author. I love a Jet Ski. When riding one, I go absolutely nuts. Going "nuts" at The River has not changed. It does not matter if one was slung around years ago in a blue plastic boat by the late Dave Partin, or one is being tossed around on a tube by the likes of Paul Sullivan today, it all seems the same to me.

Fifty years ago, our place on The River had one small TV with "rabbit-ears." Channel 10 was the only channel that could be received. Our entertainment was the radio and the record player. We had many a "dance party" on the porch. Occasionally, my band would rehearse there and the sound would carry over to the next two coves ! The echo on The River has not changed. Most of our activities were associated with water sports. However, we did enjoyed volleyball, horseshoes, darts, cards, and board games. Smells are special and many of mine are associated with The River. Mama's hot spaghetti, pan-fried crappie with grits, Viennas, Nehi grape, river water coffee and churned ice cream bring back hundreds of memories. Cranking up the charcoal grill has not changed. New smells will provide the great "river' memories for the next generation. On the other hand, would it be "lake" memories? A cold beverage was needed to figure this out.

As I contemplated the question, a horsefly landed on my arm and proceeded to have a buffet. After sending it to horsefly heaven, I thought of the many insects that occupied The River 50 years ago. Flies, gnats, dirt dobbers, and mosquitoes were common. That variety does not seem to have changed with the exception of the fire ant. The presence of snakes, turtles, gulls, hawks, buzzards, and crows has not changed. Deep into the night deer, bobcats and foxes still show their eyes from the tree line as they did when I was a Boy Scout. Crows still chant their arguments over breakfast. The actual lake water has not changed … or is it river water? It is still two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. With changes or without changes, the experience is pleasurable. Whether it is Wateree Pond, Wateree Lake, Lake Wateree, or "The River” … it all seems the same to me.

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