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Memorial Day 2021

Fred Ward, Freddy as I called him as a kid, was one of my next-door neighbors until I was in the first grade.  He was probably ten years older than me, close to the age of my Uncle Joe.  Fred posted on Facebook this week about his memories of Memorial Day during his youth. They were so close to my own memories, I wanted to share.

Fred remembered Memorial Day as the official start of water-skiing season.  Three families from Cottonwood would journey down to the public landing at Compass Lake.  They would set up tents, cook hamburgers, swim all day, and water ski non-stop. 

The Guy Ward family boat had an eighteen horsepower Evinrude motor that powered a boat that had been built in the Ag Department at the high school.  The Lamond Hughes family also had a wooden boat that was powered by a 30 horse Johnson engine.  The Cody Phillips family proudly sported a fiberglass boat, an Aquila Chief of the Water, with a 35 Johnson outboard motor.

A few houses down from the landing, my grandfather also had a wooden boat with a 35-horse engine.  It was the rig that pulled us on skis until we got a 65 horse Mercury in the late sixties.  We thought that boat could fly.

Back then you skied all day.  As soon as one person dropped off at shore, another was ready to take their place.  My Dad eventually put us on a two six-gallon gas tanks per day limit, except for weekends and holidays.  

Fred remarked that Memorial Day at Compass Lake was the way his Summer started every year – skiing, swimming, grilling, and having fun with family and friends.

Some things change and some things do not.  I am happy to say that our family once again celebrated Memorial Day at Compass Lake.  It was the first weekend we had spent with our daughter, Catherine’s family, since last Memorial Day.  It is almost three years since Hurricane Michael tore the lake apart.  Even now, some people are just beginning to rebuild.

There is not that much skiing on the lake anymore.  In fact, in the last four days I have only seen one person on skis.  There were scores of people on tubes, wakeboards, and jet-skis.  While no one seems to ski much these days, the hamburger smells were evident on docks all over the lake.  

Three generations of our family tossed horseshoes on the beach and played Mexican Dominoes on the dock.  We took naps on the hammock, and lit the firepit on the dock at night.  We had ice cream, steaks, pork chops, and of course a big breakfast to start each day. A watermelon goes without saying.  People proudly flew their flags, though most of the big flagpoles on docks around the lake were lost in the storm.

In many ways, it was just as Fred remembered it all those years ago.  It is also the way my family has celebrated Memorial Day and the start of Summer for over a hundred years, in the clear, cold waters of spring-fed Compass Lake.

I am ever mindful of those men and women who gave so much so that families like the Hughes, Wards, Phillips, Bealls and Ponders could enjoy the freedom of a day on the lake.  We remember their sacrifice even as we celebrate the start of Summer with Memorial Day.

Thanks, Fred, for sharing your memories of Memorial Days so long ago.  Thanks, also, for all those in our country’s long history who made those memories possible.  We remember you.

Dan Ponder can be reached at

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