A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Members Only

The sign said "Members Only" and a man stood at the entryway to make sure only members entered. He bent over and looked into our car and waved my dad through. I was only about 10 years old but I remember being surprised that we were members of anything. I didn't understand yet that we were poor but I was pretty sure we weren't rich and I thought only rich people were "Members" of anything. I felt a kind of pride to be a member! And the guard must have known my dad because he didn't even have to show a membership card.

Volman Lake in north central Louisiana sparkled in the sun in front of us. It was closing in on 100 degrees and my siblings and I scrambled out of the car as soon as it stopped. The lake was not the clear water I later found in Arkansas and my Texas Hill Country, but there was a sandy beach there, not the mud of the swamps where my Dad usually took us fishing. It was our favorite summer place to be! To make it even better, our cousins were there also. 

My dad was a good swimmer and he would get in with us sometimes but I don't remember my mom ever getting in the water. Cousin Steve impressed us all by swimming all the way across the lake and back. It was a small lake but still a good ways across and back and the other side had no beach. It was kind of scary to us, overgrown with weeds and overhanging trees. He waved to us from the other side and pushed off to swim back. We were sure he wouldn't make it but he did. Whew, were we relieved!

There was a tree branch that hung over the water on the beach side and the more confident swimmers often jumped off that. I was never a strong swimmer and so most of the time I stayed where I could stand up in the water when I wasn't swimming. There were a lot of people there but not so crowded that we couldn't have a good time. I guess that was one of the benefits of being in a Members Only lake. They probably kept membership small so that it wouldn't get overcrowded.

We took a break from swimming to cut open the watermelons our mom had brought along. Swimming always makes you so hungry! The sun warm on our wet skin, sand sticking to us, watermelon juice running down our chins, our family together, all safe and happy. Our beloved uncles, aunts, and cousins together with us on this perfect summer day. Down the years ahead of us hardships and deep heartache and loss were waiting for us. But on this day we didn't know any of that. 

It's one of the earliest memories I have of my childhood and I can see it clearly in my mind. It resides there only since we have no photos from those trips. I see my cousin Tommy laughing, his smile and face beautiful even as a child. In high school he would become my best buddy. A few years after that we would lose him in the jungles of Vietnam. My littlest sister Deb with her sweet disposition and smile, she too would be lost to us before her children were grown. 

But we knew nothing of that then. We had no reason to think such serious thoughts; we only had the present and it was full of sun, water, sand, laughing, all the things that make childhood happy. We had no neighborhood swimming pool back then; a city pool near us was a few years away. And a pool in our backyard was so out of sight for us we didn't even have a concept of such a thing. We had no jet skis, no tubes or skis pulled by boats, no scuba gear. None of the toys associated with a day on the lake for most people these days. 

And yet we could not have been happier. Like most kids of that era we made our own fun with little. I felt so lucky that my dad and mom had gotten us a membership in Volman Lake. 

It wasn't until I got older and began to understand what was going on in the South then that I came to realize what the requirements for membership were. There was no fee; this was good, because as I also came to know, we were definitely poor. There was only one requirement. You had to be white. 

The scope of my life back then was very small. My family was large and we were close, in both proximity and in how we felt toward each other. A family get-together involved 30+ people. We were hunters and fishermen and women. The men in our family all worked in construction in one form or another. We were laborers and craftspeople. We didn't go much outside the family for friendship and entertainment and all the things that make up life. We were not political and our churches back then were not political as so many are today.

When I look back at the times then in a broader scope I am at a loss as to understand what went on in our country during those times. I was a high school student in the 1960s. We had moved to Houston and my exposure to different people and ways of thinking let me see the world in a much wider sense. 

We have come a long way as a country but we have a long ways to go in the hearts of some people. I hope I live long enough to see more and more changes toward understanding and tolerance. Our country grows slowly into the promise on our statue of Lady Liberty, the message she sends to the world. 

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Some days I read the morning news and it is depressing. It seems we take two steps backward for every one forward. At those times, I am blessed to look out my window and see two jackrabbits and one whitetail fawn staring straight back at me, as I saw this morning. It grounds me and calms me and reminds me once again that we have to treasure the little things.

And one day, maybe sooner than later, we will all be waved through past the "Members Only" sign.


  1. That was so eloquently written.

  2. Hi Sue. I just read your Volman Lake blog. Wonderful writing! I grew up on Volman Lake. My grandpa opened the lake to the public before I was old enough to remember. My brother, Clay, now lives on the old homeplace. He would love to send you some pictures of the lake if you'd care to see them. Thanks for sharing your memories and your gift of writing.

    - Jerry L. Manly

    1. Hi, Jerry! Thank you for reading my blog and letting me know about your family's history. I would love to see some photos to share with my siblings. My email is
      I look forward to seeing the photos! Again, thank you!