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Column: Lake Hartwell memories run deeper than the water
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

A couple of weekends ago, I took a boat ride down memory lane.

I cross Lake Lanier on an almost daily basis and can sometimes hear Jet Skis zipping around from my back deck, but my childhood memories of Lake Lanier are rivaled by those of Lake Hartwell.

On Lake Hartwell, I have memories of my Grandpa putting a wiggly worm on a hook while we sat on the dock. I can feel the mud squishing in my toes when we swim, just off my grandparents’ yard, lined with riprap and trees. I can hear him teasing us about our fingers looking like prunes from being in the water so long. 

I remember taking a canoe with my dad out to the train trestle and back at least once. And sometimes we’d borrow the neighbors pontoon boat for a ride.

This month, my sisters and I, along with a few friends, rented a pontoon boat on Hartwell and our first destination was the shoreline of that old house where my grandparents lived when we were kids.

It wasn’t far from the marina, and with a little help from Google Maps we spotted the right property.

My grandparents’ dock was simple. Just wooden boards and a ladder into the water. There was no second story, and I don’t recall them ever having a boat at that dock. 

As we slowly tooled by, we tried to make sense of the new dock at the property now. And the two-story windows on the back of the house. Were those there before? I don’t remember views like that from inside the house. We couldn’t see much else through the trees.

Are my grandpa’s raised beds full of flowers still there? My parents got married in that yard in the middle of August 40 years ago, surrounded by blooming flowers. Surely Grandpa’s rhododendrons are still growing in the yard. 

And what about the swings he built us part way down the trail to the lake? Do unique pieces of driftwood still sit along the deck where we used to eat breakfast, sometimes biscuits and chocolate gravy our nana made?

I can still catch the scent of that 1970s-era home with its large stone fireplace in the living room and the yard draped in hardwood trees. In fact, taking a walk around my neighborhood now, sometimes I catch that familiar smell.

We used to walk down to a nearby park that had a boat ramp and a trail with fitness equipment. There wasn’t much to it, but now it’s all pleasant memories.

There was another park on the lake we visited frequently, and during our little tour on the pontoon boat, we wondered where that might have been. It wasn’t too long after I spotted a little peninsula and shouted, “That’s it!” I second guessed myself for a moment, but upon further examination, and quick confirmation from a text to our mom, we determined that was indeed it. 

My sisters remember playing on the rocks along the shoreline. I remember the playground, where my Grandpa would pretend to be some kind of monster and grab at our legs and feet while we squealed and tried to get away.

We pulled up to that park and hopped out of the boat. The playground looks like it could have been the same from 25 years ago. I took a few swings and jumped off at the end. Picnic tables that look newer line the shore of the park.

The boat was due back to the marina, so we hopped on board, leaving nostalgia behind at that little park jutting into Hartwell.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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