An Ode to Highland Lake

Summer memories

By Nancy Clayman
Long ago boater traveling up the channel towards the entrance to Highland Lake.

Summers as a kid in Andover begin and end with memories made at Highland Lake. There are so many, but the snippets that follow rise up and gather as bubbles do where the water meets the sand. 

Memories of puttering around the lake in our family’s 10 foot “power” boat, designed and constructed totally by my dad, reign supreme. I believed then my dad could build and fix anything. Well…except for a small miscalculation when he started to build his boat in our basement and then struggled to launch it, not onto the lake but out of our basement. 

After that small glitch, he built a beauty without the use of one nail. The marvel, to me, was how he soaked the wood in a homemade trough to then shape the bow. Powered by a five-horsepower motor, set into the water in the channel that fed into the lake, we putt-puttered to the island, always with an overfilled picnic basket. Once there, Dad and I would make more boats, those of white birch bark. Always competitive, those boats were made for racing. His won, mine lost.

On one of those trips, a lake patrolman pulled up beside us waving us to “pull over,” his voice bellowing through the bull horn. My dad was horrified and frightened. I can assure you we were not speeding but were cited for inadequate life vests on board. After issuing us a stern warning, we meekly moved on. Who knew little Highland Lake was patrolled in those days. Is it still?

Not all my memories of Highland Lake are happy ones. After an encounter with a blood sucker, near Thompson’s dock at the end of the channel, I avoided swimming in the lake, at least that part of the lake, for the remainder of the summer. As I yanked it off the side of my leg, I swear it was the size of a carp, with huge suction cup lips.

Another memory, me trying to water ski. Observing others, it looked pretty easy. Just hold on tight, lean back slightly and keep your legs straight. But with my lack of athleticism, it was several belly flops hardly out of wading depth. And, no, the boat was not pulled with just five “horses,” in case you want to save my pride.
When my uncle from Sweden came to visit, we were excited to introduce him to ‘our’ lake. He lived in a land of lakes in mid-Sweden and always described ‘his’ lakes as “like no other.” As he began to undress down to his customary nothing, we convinced him that swimming with at least his briefs would be preferable.  Unfortunately, his briefs were bright white, the Hanes cotton variety. Kill me now! Just let this be my last moment on earth – as I glanced nervously around the crowded beach.

After my dad had made the move to independent living at Havenwood, he decided to sell his home in Andover. Though yard sales were just then gaining popularity, Dad thought it might be the best way to part with his larger tools, some household items and perhaps make a few dollars. My siblings and I were recruited, and to my surprise several of their teen children joined in. 

My brother, sister and I had a childhood full of memories, but my nieces and nephews had also spent many holidays and several summer vacation weeks with their grandparents. From sunup to sunset, all seven of us sorted, cleaned, priced, made signs, set up tables on sawhorses, laughed and cried.

Exhausted, sweaty and spent emotionally we headed to Giles Dairy Bar. Sated and relaxed, our two cars tandemed back from Franklin; it was no surprise when the lead car took the turn toward Highland Lake.

Under the moonlit sky, we huddled at the water’s edge. While more stories were being shared, the finality, the last time ever reality hit me. After tomorrow there will never be another gathering of our clan in Andover, at our old home or at this beloved spot. Last swim, everyone!  “Don’t wake the neighbors,” but alas, we did. Lights went on, dogs barked, the police arrived and shined their headlights onto the beach. Ugh, busted!

Highland Lake lives deep in the hearts of many Andover residents. When our dear friend Jeff Scott was battling a brain tumor that eventually took his life, he was asked whether he had a happy place. Was there an image he grabbed onto when life became beyond difficult? Jeff had traveled the world – seen and done more than most. But it was the peace and beauty of Highland Lake that he yearned for in his last days.