“Turtles and Fish and Geese and Family,” column for Oct. 13, 2015

It’s almost midnight. The turtles that sunned themselves this morning, lined up like helmets on a dead tree branch, are nowhere to be seen.

The schools of crappie that darted all afternoon for chunks of bread that my husband tossed in the water are sleeping in the deep, exhausted, no doubt.

The flock of geese that swam up to check us out, then swam away honking as if laughing at how we looked, have flown over to the far side of the lake.

And “Jaws,” a giant catfish that circled the dock opening its mouth like a whiskered baseball glove, is doing whatever catfish do when the lake they call home goes to bed for the night.

For a week, my husband and I have been renting a house on a lake in South Carolina, near the town where I grew up. This evening my family, those who live here, joined us for dinner to celebrate birthdays for my sister and our cousin. There were 16 of us, the surviving remnants of a family that used to swarm to Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house like honey bees to a hive.

Tonight, we spent two hours eating pulled pork and birthday cake, catching up and telling stories, and a long hour saying goodbye. If saying goodbye ever becomes an Olympic sport, my family will bring home the gold.

When they left, it got so quiet all I could hear was a moth banging on the screen. I opened the door to let it inside. My husband watched me from the corner of his eye the way he does when I get out of sorts.

“How are you doing?” he said.

“I’ll be all right.”

“It was a great party.”

“I know.”

Finally, he turned on the TV to watch a baseball game. I like baseball, but I needed a little time to myself. I get that way sometimes. So I went out on the porch, leaving my husband to watch the game with the moth.

The sky was dark, no stars in sight. The forecast called for thunderstorms. The lake was pitch black except for a few reflections of dock lights that rippled like moonlight on the water. I thought of something I learned long ago: Light shines brightest in the dark.

This lake is like family to me. It was the first place I swam as a child after my mother made me take lessons at a public pool.

It was where, as a teenager, I wore my first bikini and never worried much about catfish.

When I left my family in the South to marry and raise my children in California, the lake helped ease my homesickness. I’d close my eyes and picture it just as I saw it today: Turtles sunning. Catfish jumping. Wind etching its surface like a touch from the hand of God.

It always made me feel better. Funny, isn’t it, what comfort a good memory can hold?

When my first husband died, I returned to the lake the way a child with a skinned knee runs to her mother. I spent a month on its shore healing, learning how to be alone and whole.

Years later, I remarried. Now my new husband acts as if the lake and my family are his, too.

I wish you could see him.

The first time he saw Jaws, he nearly fell in the lake. There’s nothing like a 20-pound catfish to bring the boy out in a man.

Tomorrow we will leave the lake to go back to our lives in Nevada, and our children and grandchildren in California. It’s never easy to leave my family _ my sister and brothers, nieces and nephews, cousins and dozens of friends.

But I’ll carry them with me the same way I carry this lake, in memory and heart and soul.

You don’t need to be physically in a place or with someone to feel how they make you feel.

It’s enough to know you are better for having been in their presence, and hope to see them again in this world or the next.

That’s what I’m doing on this porch tonight.

Hope is like light. It shines brightest in the dark.

Comments

  1. Dale says:

    This story has a ring of familiarity to it. I also moved away from the south when I was in my mid 20’s for 3 years, returned to my home state in the south and then again moved back to the north. It will never feel like home here. Mostly because the people I love are there and I am here. Seeing them once a year just isn’t enough. Watching the young ones grow up via pictures and now Facebook is just not the same. I have made a life here although I have always hoped to return to the south to live out my years. Probably not going to happen. I am thankful for my blessings.

  2. Sydney Love says:

    You have done it again! I look forward to your visit to the lake every fall and getting to read your reflections of the feelings you have. I will never forget all the feelings you wrote the October you went, after your husband passed. Sometimes when I go to a lake near my home in North Carolina I think of some of the things I have read from you when you were visiting on your lake. I had not known why you felt that way toward your lake until now. How sweet. You always make my day when I read your “blogs”. You have made my day for about 17 years now. I sometimes feel you are one of my best friends. Please don’t ever quit writing, I would miss you more than I could bear. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with this fellow Mama and Grandmother. My adult children feel like you are part of our family because I am always telling them something Sharon Randall said. Much love to you and your family.

  3. Hi Sharon! Thank you for another wonderful and comforting column. Going home was always special; the smell of the city, the farms, going for drives, Mom’s cooking, Dad’s store and his wonderful customers. I loved my family with all my heart. It was always hard to leave. They blew kisses until I couldn’t see them anymore. These memories are forever etched in my mind. That what really matters in life.

  4. Vanessa L says:

    There is nothing more comforting than returning home, and nothing more bittersweet than telling our loved ones goodbye. Thank you for another reminder of what really matters in this life.

  5. You, Sharon, are like those lights shimmering on the black lake. Your word pictures shine light into the lives of so many who greatly appreciate your eternal hope. We need them, and we love you for it.
    Continued blessings,
    Bruce

  6. cynthia says:

    I always look forward to your column. This one has touched me on a different level. As we live each day with the cancer our son-in-law is battling, I sometimes need to just sit and reflect and remember what to keep in my heart. Watching friends and other family members relishing their happy lives, it’s hard to keep the dark nights from smothering the light. But, I keep looking for a glimmer of something to drag me back into the rays of hope.

  7. shashi says:

    I do not know how a lake looks like as I never saw any but your column gives good view of how it looks like . Going to a hotel and spend a night with family is still a dream for me . But one day would come when I will spend a night with my children and grand children . Family is so important to stay with and food tastes different when shared with family and if it is home cooked it is completely different and I have done it million times and my son remembers the taste even till next visit . Thank you Sharon for another column . Lot of love . I always wait for it and if it is related to nature and family I adore it more .

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