The Wallet

The Wallet

 

“My escape is to just get in a boat and disappear on the water. ” Carl Hiaasen

Boys of all ages and shapes love the freedom and excitement of a boat ride on a full lake in May.  There is a freedom on the water.  Hair blowing, sunglasses on, the smell of gasoline…all is well at the beginning of summer.

Just a couple of months after my son turned 16, he and a school friend were out on the upper Lake Hartwell in our little blue skiff enjoying those first days of summer break.  Of course, these radiant waters, like the sirens to the Greek sailors of yore, were calling my teen boys to test the parameters of the new Yamaha engine we had just installed.  They had to make and crest waves.  They had to turn donuts.  And, they had to push the ability of the small craft to stay afloat amidst a variety of maneuvers mixed with speed and wind.   Ultimately, what happened next was quite predictable.  They flipped the boat and swamped all the contents.  Paddles and jackets and half consumed water bottles could be seen floating along with a plastic bag and briefly, a hat.  Although stunned, the big boys weren’t injured and were able to right the small boat and return home.

As the adrenaline wore off,  the teens began to work through all the things that were in the boat just minutes before it went asunder.  There were water bottles, food packages, fishing poles and tackle, sunglasses, wallets, and cell phones.

“Oh no!  My wallet was in my pocket!” was the gasp I heard.  “All the gift cards I got from my birthday were in the wallet.”

“Did you have cash in there?”  his dad inquired.

“Maybe $5 – $10 bucks,” was the assessment.

For months, stories were told of the perilous incident.  Various theories surfaced of how the boat flipped, where it happened, and why the boys were able to right the craft.   Everybody  was profoundly grateful that the boys were safe and that the whole business only amounted to  some lost items.  We were thankful God had spared them from their own bad judgments.

And…just as quickly as that fantastic summer-freedom feeling came, it went.  Like the release of water from Hartwell Dam on a sweltering August day, those carefree times were gone.  Summers, Christmases, proms and graduations whirled by in a fast current of ceaseless days.

Then, on a recent December afternoon, a package arrived at our non lake house.   The padded manila envelope was addressed to my oldest, now almost 22.  Home for the holiday, he found the package and opened it.

“Ya’ll come here and see this!” was the call.  The family gathered ’round our kitchen counter while he emptied the contents onto the flat surface.

What took place next was truly astonishing.  Carefully, and with great curiosity, my son opened a flat and dingy rectangular object.  We all stood there gazing, and upon closer inspection, realized what it was!!  A smile of recognition came to my boy’s lips.

“This is my wallet!”  he blasted.  “This is the wallet I lost when we flipped the skiff.”

Sure enough!  It was the wallet of a 16 year old boy, a perfect time capsule of a by-gone era.  The wallet, lost by a boy, was now opened by a man!  The case itself was constructed of grey duct tape.  The contents, although water battered,  were undisturbed:  gift cards, a driver’s license and a library card.  The remnants of a heavily water tattered $5 and $1 bill were displayed along with a few tarnished coins.  And, there was a note.  The note told of how the young finder had seen the wallet near the boat ramp on GA 123 in Toccoa, GA.  She collected the wallet and intended to return it to its owner, but, as often happens, time got the better deal and it ended up in the top drawer of a dresser.  The writer of the note, finding the wallet one morning and realizing it had not been returned, mailed it to my son along with a little sticky note affixed inside:  “Looks like you had a $1 and a $5 in the wallet — Thought I would replace that for you.  Cherish the memory!”

 

I was at a loss for words, which is unusual!  What a kind and generous thing to do, return a water-logged, trashed duct-taped wallet to a kid you will likely never meet!!

While my son was contemplating the gift cards, I was struck by the generosity of a person I will never be able to thank!  A person who took the time to be kind!  That can be a rare thing.  But, people are good!  Lake people are good and I will cherish the memory.

On the Lake Bed

On the Lake Bed

On the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, just south of the mountains where the lake gives way to river and the city gives way to country we have a house.   In this remote section of the lake, even during seasons of high water, we seldom in a single day see more than a handful of boaters.  Duck hunters frequent these river banks as do white tailed deer and Canada geese.   Tales of Cherokee ghosts, brave pioneers and small gauge railroads are told about these surroundings by local historians and naturalists alike.   Except for the occasional flock of flying geese or an air-boat propelled carp hunter, it is quiet here.

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Yet, beneath these green waters lurk secrets and treasures and even creepy things.

These things, usually covered by the shadowy waters of the Tugaloo, rear their heads when the water recedes.  Tiny, living seeds lay dormant waiting for an opportunity to burst forth into life.  Huge, old stumps hide their past, clutching the river banks as if still waiting for a rescuer to retrieve them from the rising waters that flooded these shores more than 50 years ago.   Hidden household items from the 1980’s, dumped from some boat or washed away in some flood are now ensconced in mud and grass.  Their glinty edges catch the eye of a passerby demanding to be picked up and pondered.

Around Thanksgiving, we ventured out into this strange land that we call the lake bed. Mournful children, so saddened by the encroaching mud at Labor Day, were now mesmerized by this peculiar beauty that awaited them.

Launching ourselves from the dock, we tip toed across the soft mud toward the river.  A good 10 pair of shoes were heavily soiled in the process, but eventually all of the family plunged forth into the straw colored meadow.  A drone came out of its box and buzzed overhead.   I heard a child yell out, “It’s amazing!  It’s so soft.”  I peered  50 yards across the prairie and saw my 10 year old making a grass angel!

“What are these mom?” asked another as he picked a tightly packed bud from a tan colored bush.

“Not sure,” I mumbled as I noticed the fall leaves on the South Carolina side framing a backdrop to our activities .

A quick glance north and my black dog came into clear view, her shiny coat juxtaposed against the monotone grasses.

jasmine

We lingered here a bit and then walked on toward the water’s edge.  There we saw several, old craggy stumps, remnants of days when this was a fast flowing river winding through a fertile corn field.   Downstream we saw symmetrical ripples in the sandy bank,  formed when the water drained out bit by bit, like a bathtub needing a shot of Drano.

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ripples

Suddenly, I was startled away from my amusement with the ripples by a thud to my left.  This was the sound of my teenager whacking autumn toned bushes.  Each whack produced a cloud of tiny, poufy seeds dimly lit by the late autumn sun.  We took a few minutes to whack some more of these tender bushes and take photographs.  How did these shrubs grow so quickly?  Wasn’t there water here just two months ago?

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taking-pics

Next, we moved a hundred yards down river to a flat, sandy area on the shoreline.  It was the perfect slate for practicing cursive.  It’s much easier to form capital letters in the damp sand!

cursive

After handwriting, I found myself sitting in the supple grass for a few more minutes, taking in the autumn colors and the stumps.  So many stumps!

“They’ve been down there this whole time,” I told my boys.  “We just swam over these giants a few months ago!”

“That is creepy, mom, ” a boy announced.

“We’ll have to remember where they are when the water comes up,”  I noted.

By this time, like the lake, the late afternoon sun was running out.  It was time to get home.

As we shambled back toward our dock, the most amazing hues of a pink and blue sunset caught my eye.  “Probably the affects of all the smoke,” I mused, remembering the fires just north of here up in Rabun.  The big sky, without trees or water, gave a vast, open feeling, like being out on a Montana ranch.  We North Georgians don’t typically get big openness,  I figured.

sunset

At dark, we arrived back at the marooned dock;  that stark reminder that things are not as they should be.

“You certainly can’t have a lake without water!” my husband maintained later on the phone.

“Yes! But, you can have a lake bed!” this nature nut retorted.

Out on the lake bed, we’d been given a consolation, a little silver lining to an otherwise very disappointing situation.  Nature was there, all around;  and it was lovely.

grass