Vacation brings together my past and present

While I have always lived in the same Indiana city that I continue to call home, I have also felt a pull to a tiny town in Tennessee that feels like a secondary home to me.  For as long as I can remember (and before I can remember), my family has gone to Byrdstown, Tenn.  Chances are pretty decent that you’ve not heard of it.  It’s a tiny place without even a stoplight.  It’s only been invaded by two national chain restaurants, Dairy Queen and, more recently, Subway.  There are a hand full of locally owned eateries that offer southern, home-cooked fare and make my taste buds happy.

But, it’s not the town or the food that gets me.  It’s the lake.  Byrdstown is perched right beside Dale Hollow Lake.  This man-made creation is huge.  It has a multitude of docks.  It has a city still buried beneath it from the old days.  It has a history all to itself that is fascinating, but my history is what I think of when I look out over the waters of Dale Hollow and smell that lake water.  I have vivid memories of good times with family and I feel as if I’m come full circle now that I’m able to make new memories there with my own family.  Both of my kids swam for their very first time in the lake.  For me, our vacation is relaxing but it also swirls together past and present for me.

Most of the time we fished from our bass boat, but sometimes we fished from the shore. This is my brother and me when I was 4 and he was 8.

I smell the lake water and I remember swimming off a dock with my family as a small child and my grandpa soaping up in the lake.  I smell the boat engines and think of the many, many fishing trips I’ve taken with my dad, grandpa and older brother.  We didn’t always say so much, but we were together.  We made memories.  We laughed when someone went “squirrel fishing” and got their line caught in a tree.  We whooped when anyone reeled in a fish of significant size.  Heck, if I’m being completely honest I even remember the coffee can I’d use for the bathroom when I was little as all the guys turned their heads the other way before I really even understood that much about modesty.

The lull of curvy roads (which are quickly disappearing) reminds me of rolling around in the back of my dad’s camper truck with my brother and cousin as we wound our way down to the lake.  A visit to a local restaurant reminds me how we’d often get to share a hot fudge cake sundae on vacation.  It also reminds me of being a child and ordering my breakfast for the first time with one egg scrambled and one fried.  My family laughed about that.  The waitress look at me like I had two heads.  To this day, when I make eggs for myself that’s exactly how I make them.  I no longer try getting them that way in a restaurant, though.

While so much remains the same, a lot has changed as well.  When we drive along the “new” highway, I remember when I was a child and it was being built.  I remember one particular trip with my grandparents, brother and cousin where we walked along the dirt that had been pressed down in preparation for the new road going in.  It’s much straighter than the old road and makes loads more sense, I suppose.  But it’s different than it used to be.

I also have new memories sneaking in with the old ones.  When I look at the ducks and fish swimming off of Sunset Dock, I think of my pooch and how much he likes to bark at them and swim beside them.  This trip he stayed home with my in-laws who have his littermate brother and only met us at the end of the trip at a family reunion, but he usually goes with us.  He had a back injury flare up, so we knew he’d be better off not going.

Toes in the sand and ready to go swimming this year.

When my daughter and I feed the ducks, fish and turtles from the dock, I think of my mom who loves doing that very thing with us.  I remember last summer when my daughter was finally old enough to start feeding the fish with us and how much she enjoyed it.  I chuckle when I think of making bread balls to sink down to the fish and my husband and daughter telling the fish to enjoy their “spicy meatballs.”  It makes no sense, but it is a funny memory to me.

When I watch my son splashing his hands on top of the water at the beach, I remember his sister in her green watermelon two-piece bathing suit doing the same thing.

When I look at the bunk beds where we stay, I remember how for two summers now my daughter hasn’t been allowed to sleep on the top bunk, but she’s loved climbing up there and sitting atop the comforter to read her bedtime stories.

Our final sunset at the lake for this trip. Every time we leave the lake for the last time on a trip, I get a bit choked up.

I have so many vacation memories.  I have distant ones from childhood.  I have ones that are bittersweet as I think of my grandpa who is now in heaven and my grandma who I’m not sure will ever make the trip south again.  I have closer ones from recent years.  And this year, I’ve added to my collection of memories.  I’ll remember my daughter lighting up with joy when we stopped at nearby Dinosaur World on the way down.  I’ll remember my son feeling very unsure about the sand between his toes.  I’ll remember my daughter snuggling beside her dad on the loveseat watching episodes of Transformers from the 1980s.  I’ll remember my son wanting a hat on most of the trip.  I’ll remember my daughter being way more excited about the stuffed unicorn she got at a candy store instead of caring about the actual candy we bought.  I’ll remember my son already learning to climb up to the top bunk and how my heart skipped a beat when I realized he could as I stood behind him ready to catch him at any moment.  I’ll remember the few moments of peace on the dock as the four of us sat together eating ice cream and watching the sun sink lower into the sky.  I’ll remember hanging out with my husband watching movies and reading after the kids were fast asleep.  I’ll remember the night he got out around 11 p.m. to go find WiFi to download a book for my Kindle.

Of everything, I’ll remember the love and the laughter.  We definitely had some cranky moments from all of us.  We had a few small challenges here and there, but those are already fading in my memory less than a week after returning.  I’m sure there were cranky moments when I was a child as well, but those have also faded.

Along with all of my specific memories, trips to Byrdstown and Dale Hollow leave me with a memory of peace and love.  I feel more at peace on the lake than I do anywhere else.   I have had moments of struggle and physical pain in my life where I’ve stopped and envisioned being on the lake to soothe my weary soul.  All of these feelings and memories are wrapped up in a tiny Tennessee town that feels like a homecoming to me, though I’ve never lived there.  I count myself blessed to have fallen in love with this place and even more blessed to be able to continue to share it with the people I love.

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