The stumps and the twigs

Published 7:20 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It was one of four trees hit by lightning last year that I had to deal with this year. Two were 120-foot-tall pine trees in my yard.

One split the tree in a spiral, coming down and died pretty fast.

The other came straight down and is still struggling to live.

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Two were at Compass Lake.

The first was a cypress tree, which does not usually get struck by lightning. The other was an oak tree closer to the house with a security light attached to its trunk.

The lightning blew the top of the oak tree into splinters.

The strike popped breakers on the boat house and the cabin, forever showing me the wisdom of having proper electrical protection.

We finally cut down the oak tree this spring. Although it was probably 75 years old, it wasn’t one of the magnificent live oak trees that surrounded it. In a quirk of nature, taking it down opened up the beauty of the big live oak limbs dripping with moss.

Imagine my surprise this weekend when I saw a twig of new growth coming out of the stump of the oak tree. Its leaves were healthy and green. It was growing straight up in the opening of sunlight caused by removal of the old oak tree.

I noticed the new growth as I was sitting on the beach watching my two grandchildren, Henry and Laura, playing in the shallow water. At nine months, it was Laura’s first swim in Compass Lake.

Henry, at two years, is an expert in the water and goes non-stop until his little body wears out. One of my greatest honors was to be holding them when they took their first dip into this lake.

I was Henry’s age when the first of my great-grandparents to vacation at Compass Lake died. My other great-grandparents vacationed there until I was in my early teens. I listened to their stories on the front porch, mesmerized that they were children of Civil War veterans.

One of my grandmothers, who would have been 100 this year, grew up on the lake and after being married it was always a part of the life of their family. My Aunt Cat, who is 80, and my mother who is 78, along with my much younger uncle all grew up on the lake. The next generation, of which I was a part, all spent a lot of time learning about life on the deep clear spring fed lake.

One of my daughters is the latest in a long line of “Aunt Cats.”  I watched her play with her son, Henry, and her niece, Laura. I watched my other daughter, “Aunt Elizabeth,” play with her daughter, Laura, and her nephew, Henry.

In the meantime, I cooked ribs and played with grandchildren. We had pancakes where I told the story of how my own grandfather would put any leftover pancakes on the table the next morning. And so we did again.

I was in bed by 9 p.m., worn out by the new dynamics of our family. As a child I was awakened by the sound of the Florida Boys Quartet on my grandfather’s black and white television. This weekend, it was the sound of young children that got me up as the sun came over the edge of the far shoreline.

So much has changed and yet remains the same. There were nothing but wooden fishing boats fueled by paddles in the time of my great-grandparents, but the lake is full of powerful sleek gas guzzlers now. Our boat is 10 times more powerful than the 35-horsepower of my youth. One house had six jet skis lining their shore this weekend.

We had a giant attic fan as I was growing up. This weekend we had fans on the dock, porch, beach and under the tent. The two air-conditioning units in the house kept everyone comfortable no matter what the temperature happened to be.

Along with others around the lake, we had a giant new float compliments of Sam’s Club. The “Caribbean Island” would easily hold eight adults and even included a slide. We used old inner tubes when I was a boy.

If we were lucky we got the inner tube of an old tractor tire. They would rub your skin raw and all the boys had the streaks along their skin caused by diving through the tube and scrapping the stem along the way.

Seven generations of my family have shared the memories of this special place. I sometimes feel that I am at the junction point of family memories. I shared so many good times with grandparents and great-grandparents. Now I am making new memories with my own grandchildren.

A family isn’t really that different from the old oak tree that died this year. As time passes you grow bigger and taller spreading your limbs all around. From the old stump that started things generations ago a twig sprouts, full of life and seeking its own place in the sun. They are all fed by the same roots.

My great-grandparents are the stumps and Henry and Laura are the twigs. Mary Lou and I are just a branch along the way that get to share the memories in each direction.