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 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.