I’m just sitting here on the tailgate of my truck with the lake in full view. I just put a coat of sealer on the porch of the house I’m working on, so I have some time to kill and enjoy such a beautiful day. Across the lake lies a giant house, recently finished with most of the standard traits of a high-end home and even a few extras like stucco and a clay roof. It makes me wonder about the different types of residences here on the water. I would say there are basically three. First, you have houses built to be homes – functional, comfortable and accessible. Second, there are the ones built to entertain, with adequate lodging, open floor plans and outdoor amenities. Third, are the ones closest to my heart – the “plywood palaces” – mainly there as a place to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom while you enjoy the rest of your time outside and on the water.
There aren’t many of these palaces going up anymore, but that was pretty much all there was when I was a kid. Back then you could buy lakefront property for nearly nothing. I knew people that paid for theirs with the timber they cut off of it. Houses were thrown together with new and used lumber and filled with furniture and appliances bought second hand. As families grew bigger, so did the houses, adding a room here and there and another log for more folks to sit by the fire.
Times are different now, and I think it’s sad in a way. Even in this devalued market, it’s still too expensive to buy a lot and just throw something up. But, you’ll still find a few of these plywood palaces if you look for them.
One of those is home to all my early memories of Lake Wedowee. Although there’s a fine house built beside it now, that plywood palace owned by my Big Daddy and Aunt Sylvia still remains. As a teenager, I remember standing at the bottom of the soon-to-be-filled lake, looking up at a boat dock jutting from the hill side and wondering how the heck Big Daddy Warren could possibly know where the lake would fill to. But, he did. When the water finally came up, it stopped just inches below the decking. That still amazes me to this day.
We owned the lake back then. It was odd if we saw more than 7 or 8 boats out there on a Saturday, but those sparse numbers didn’t mean it wasn’t hazardous on the water. Logs were everywhere. Everything the power company didn’t get out came floating to the top and you had to be on your game to avoid them. With that said, the safest place to be on the lake was in a boat driven by Ed Warren.
He and Aunt Sylvia were and still are a big part of many of our (all my childhood friends) happy childhood. All of which revolved around that plywood palace made in haste with walls of screen wire and a floor covered in sleeping bags. We ate something between two pieces of bread for lunch and something from the grill for supper. The crickets sang us to sleep and the morning chill woke us up. We played cards at night and horseshoes during the day. The rest of the time we were either in or on the water. There weren’t any TV’s or telephones, only music from a little radio. It was the definition of a getaway and some of the best times of my life.
Another plywood palace found on the lake is that of Smith and Mark Pass. Built years ago by a previous owner, these two lucky people have kept the theme of the house. They even call it the “Plywood Palace,” and you’ll see a sign proudly displayed as you enter the driveway in declaration.
The Pass’ house is filled with memories. Everywhere you look are the things collected over the years from places and times that good memories were made, and the pictures on the walls capture those memories. It’s not a fancy house, but functional, made to be enjoyed more than admired.
To Smith and Mark, I’d like to say thank you, for carrying on the going, but not gone, tradition of the Plywood Palace. When you see some beat up jet skis tied to your dock, don’t worry, it’ll be me.
And to Big Daddy and Aunt Sylvia, I’d like to say thank you for being a significant part of teaching me what is really important in life.