The memory of the wooden pier has grown dim. The gray planks that I walked across almost daily for 5 years of my life could tell hundreds of stories of teenage joy and angst. My mind gets older and the details are fading.
On a crumbling paved road in Talladega County, my mom and step-dad built a house on Logan-Martin Lake when I was twelve years old. To help contain my excitement, I refused to go see the progress until we were only weeks from moving in. It was worth the wait.
Like most boys teetering between child and man, I loved swimming and fishing. With my “help” (I use that term loosely), my step-dad built a pier that stretched twenty feet into the water. The creosote from the support posts left 2nd degree burns on my skin, but the pain faded with time. Even though the water was down to it’s winter level, I walked out on the pier every morning before leaving for school, willing the water level to rise.
And rise it did. After the spring rains, the water level submerged MY pier 2 feet under water. I’m sure I understood what Noah felt like as I would daily walk to the water’s edge, praying to catch a glimpse of dry wood.
By early May, the waters would recede and I would grab my fishing gear and make the 30 yard walk with my Irish Setter, Zeke. He would sit with coiled enthusiasm until I’d pull out a catfish or bream. It was his greatest joy to dance around with my freshly caught prize in his mouth. More than once, I had to remove a hook from his lip as well as the fish’s.
I buried Zeke as close to the pier as I could when he died my senior year of high school.
One spring Saturday, after the water had gone down, we noticed a foul stench in the air. My step-dad and I went to investigate and as we got closer to the end of the slough, the smell became almost overpowering. Then we saw it.
A very dead, very bloated cow.
As I was emptying my breakfast on the ground, he yelled for me to get back. I looked over to where he was running from and saw several Water Moccasins coming out of the carcass. Dry heaving and running are NOT a good combination. That’s the one memory I would be fine with losing.
We returned with lighter fluid and matches. He was able to stand at a safe distance and squirt almost the entire container over the body, forming a liquid trail to his perch. He lit a match and I watched as flames slowly consumed the dead bovine. I thought it might smell like a cookout. My thinking was flawed. He returned a few more times over the next week to continue the process. I didn’t have the stomach to accompany him.
My love of the night sky was born on that pier. At sunset, I would grab a sleeping bag and lay on top of it and watch the sky fade as the stars and planets would gradually come into view. I’d tell myself I wouldn’t go inside until I saw a shooting star, and then just more. And another two more. Without the lights of the city or close neighbors, it was almost too easy some nights. And covered with dew, I’d reluctantly make my way back inside.
The house was sold shortly after I graduated high-school.
I drove by the house after my mom passed and the memories were so thick I couldn’t see the road to drive. There were new houses but none of the names I remember on the mailboxes. As much as I wanted to knock on the door and ask if I could walk down to MY pier (it’s still there), I couldn’t muster the same courage that Miranda Lambert has in her song The House That Build Me.
“And I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard.”