Mark Ballard

A day at the lake

We never took many vacations as I was growing up. Lack of enough money was the reason. As a child, I always thought Daddy preferred to work his vacation time instead of using it. But as I grew up I realized that he was unselfishly trying to make extra money for us. We never really missed going on elaborate out-of-town trips because we didn’t know what we were missing.

When my sister and I were teenagers, our idea of going on a vacation was heading to one of our richer friends’ pools or, for that matter, any body of water that was near us. Mother would load us, the makings of a picnic, suntan oil, floatation belts and a mismatched group of beach towels into her baby blue Volkswagen doodlebug. Off to the pool or lake, we would go.

Daddy found a discarded patched inner tube from a large tire for us to enjoy in the water. It managed to keep most of the air inside but just barely, which required frequent stops by a gas station for refills! It wouldn’t fit into Mother’s tiny car, so we rolled down the windows and put our arms out. Mother carefully placed the inner tube on top of her car and each us of kept a death grip on it all the way to the lake. Windy conditions always equaled an interesting ride.

Sometimes, we invited friends to meet us at the lake. Many hours were spent splashing around in the water and taking turns jumping off an old wooden dock in the center of the lake. One afternoon we lured Mother, positioned in the infamous inner tube, out to the dock. She had so much fun floating out to a place she had only seen from afar. She disembarked from the inner tube and made her way up the steps and onto the dock.

Tiring of the dock, Mother decided to leave. There was only one slight problem. Mother didn’t know how to swim and the inner tube was her only way back to land. “It’s no problem! Just jump into the inner tube!” we all screamed, dog-paddling in place in the water. “We’ll catch you with the inner tube.”

A little nervous since she didn’t know how to swim, Mother paused for what seemed like an eternity before she took a deep breath and jumped. In the process, she misjudged the space and hit her leg on the edge of the dock. Forgetting she was the wife of the chairman of the Board of Deacons in a Southern Baptist Church, she frantically bobbed to the surface, let out a shrill gasp and screamed, “I broke my d--- leg!

As time stood still, we expected the lake to part like the Red Sea did for Moses. We quickly swam to Mother and got her propped onto the inner tube so that her injured leg pointed straight out. We all grabbed a part of the inner tube and, like a tugboat, brought her safely to shore. We paddled as quickly as possible, not looking back in hopes we’d get out the water before we all turned into a pillar of salt! Not one word was uttered on the car ride home.

Mother’s leg wasn’t broken but we thought we were. She had screamed out a curse word we definitely weren’t supposed to say. That night one of our friends told her mother what Mrs. Ballard had said at the lake. She responded, “Hush your mouth. I know she didn’t say that!” Mother later told the lady she had, in fact, said it.

Occasionally throughout my teenaged years I heard Mother say it again. Mother always told us that Granny blamed Granddaddy’s family for that kind of language, indicating that her side of the family would never utter such. More than one laugh has been shared over the years concerning that memorable day Mother cussed at the lake.

Although we didn’t travel much, my mind is full to the brim of summer fun. I have so many fond memories of just playing outside with my sister and friends. We had no cellphones or electronic games but, without any trouble, found a way to entertain ourselves. I hate that a lot of children in today’s society will never have these kinds of memories.

Until the day I die, I will always remember exactly where I was in that lake when I first heard Mother blurt out that cuss word. Back then, we thought the world would come to an end. It’s ironic that while writing this column I just heard the same word used by a newscaster on national television. It just goes to prove how the times have definitely changed!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email to; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.