She was 17 with a head full of curls and a laugh that could fill the hollow that she grew up in. I can just hear that laugh now as she makes the hike through the briar-laden trails and steep hills adorned with rough, sometimes moss-covered rocks toward this place on the mountain …at this lake they call Lula.
By my estimation it is 1930, the Great Depression is just under way …but when you’ve always been poor, how are you supposed to know?
She makes her way with her girlfriends to a gathering of large boulders surrounding this small crystal blue lake fed by a never-ending waterfall …it was probably the most beautiful sight she had ever seen …this lake they call Lula.
It’s now 65 years later …she is resting in her hospital bed as she nears her final days, her mind long covered with the thick veil of age. The stories of her life will soon be leaving with her …it’s such a shame that we can sometimes leave this world with untold stories.
But, not this day.
The fog suddenly lifts …she’s not through yet, the lady has a story to tell. Now the words of long ago begin to flow like water from an old spicket to anyone lucky enough to be within earshot of that hospital room.
She begins to recall that it was a beautiful day, but more than just that, it was a day that the sun changed the hue of all it met with its golden brush. The skies, oh the skies …they were simply a blue that she had never seen …perhaps because this color did not exist before that day. This place was magic …especially to a poor little girl from down in the valley.
From her bed she waves her hands like a child again and begins to giggle as she describes the next event …the excitement is building as it begins to fill the room.
She’s now sitting on those rocks with girlfriends …in my mind I see them adorned in white cotton which almost glows from the warm sun as they kick their feet in the frigid water and toss a rock toward the falls.
One of the girls looks toward the brightness with a startled, yet very pleased gaze. This movement catches the attention of the young girl with curls in her hair and as she turns to look, a striking young man steps between her and the golden sun. A soft amber glow totally encompasses him …a moment she would now recall all these years later with absolute certainty and clearness.
She doesn’t realize it yet, but she has seen her future in this handsome 24-year-old man. An older man who you just know heard the laugh and saw the smile of this beautiful girl at this lake they call Lula.
Within two years they would be married.
She would giggle a little longer as a few grandkids lapped up the words …words about a grandfather they never knew. He would die after a long, grueling illness in 1946 at the age of thirty-nine …leaving a wife of thirty-three and four little kids wanting to hear more stories. He left ten years before his first grandchild would be born.
Soon the fog returned and this time it would settle in for good. The lady had spoken.
I found myself recalling that story last week when I heard that Lula Lake would be open on Saturday. The lake is part of a privately owned 4,000 acre preserve on Lookout Mountain in Northwest Georgia…hidden from the world down an old rail bed and protected thankfully now by the Lula Lake Land Trust. They open it now on the first and last Saturdays of the month for hikers to enjoy.
I haven’t done much hiking, but I had an overwhelming feeling that I had to go …I had to see this place for the first time.
I hiked trails that I am most certain that my grandfather Paul Forrester walked that day …that day now from eighty some odd years ago. Me and a couple of buddies hiked a mile or so down trails and up steep hills until finally I began to hear the water. Soon the falls and the lake were in view nestled between a huge chasm of rocks …the most beautiful little lake your eyes will ever see on this side of the clouds …this lake they call Lula.
I stood there for the longest looking down at this place that I always knew existed, but I had never visited. This place that is such a part of who I am …my gosh, a place that if it didn’t exist …I probably wouldn’t either.
Finally, I worked my way down the trail, carefully maneuvering slick rocks until I made it to the spot, the spot you see in this picture …the spot that I’m most certain that Willie Mae Simpson was sitting and laughing as the sun grabbed her and Paul and simply never let go.
I’m not letting go either.