The cypress tree still grows in my memory

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016.

By Bill Shepard

“It stood at one of the most popular spots in Darlington during my childhood years.”
Now, the story:
Imagine my surprise and the questions that ran through my mind when I opened my mailbox and found the large package inside.
“What can this be?” I said, as I felt what seemed to be a wooden box inside a large postal envelope.
I thought it might be something that my good wife had ordered, and I headed inside and took a seat at the table. I had not yet looked to see where the package was from. I asked my wife if she had ordered something, and she answered that she had not.
It was then that I noticed the return address on the large envelope. Douglas Lee had sent the package, and inside was a piece of a board that measured 8 inches wide and 14 inches long.
I removed the board and without seeing the letter inside, I questioned, “What was this all about?” Then I saw the smaller envelope inside, and took from it the letter from Lee. I began to read:
“Dear Bill,
“I remember reading a story you once wrote about the wash hole on Swift Creek where you and the other boys from the Mill Village went to swim and bathe when you were a boy.
“Also, you wrote that a large cypress tree grew at the edge of the water, and that nails were driven into the tree, on which you and others would hang your overalls before skinny-dipping in the water.”
By now, memories were really flowing.
The letter continued, “The board I am sending to you was taken from that tree.”
Lee, from a different generation than my own, said that he too had swum in that wash hole and played in its cool water. Yes, memories were flowing in rhythm with the waters of Swift Creek.
I recalled the article I had written to the News & Press about the wash hole and the cypress tree. I recalled the letter from a person living in New York that was a written response to it. Also, I recalled the response from the late Morrell Thomas Sr., publisher of this paper at that time.
Lee wrote that in later years, he became owner of the property bordering the creek where we spent so many happy hours. The old cypress tree was still standing as a sentinel guarding the playground of generations past. He said that when Hurricane Hugo passed through, it blew the old cypress tree down.
He had the tree cut into timbers and used them for his personal projects. Having remembered my letter about the swimming hole and the cypress tree, he sent me this piece from the old tree. It is a treasure piece!
Now I have in my collection of memorabilia a key to the City of Darlington presented by former Mayor Tony Watkins, a slingshot, a kite and a can of marbles from Dr. Clif Wilson of Darlington, four dimes — 40 cents from Dorothy Martin – settling a debt of more than 80 years, and now this board from the age-old cypress tree from Douglas Lee.
Memories from a lifetime of memories!
The following poem was written when I was thinking of the old cypress swamp where I spent many happy hours swimming, hunting and fishing.

“Cypress Swamp”
Cypress swamp and lazy stream,
Meandering along amid slush and green,
Untouched except by nature’s hand,
Calm and serene, unspoiled by man.
In yesterday’s memories I travel past,
Enter once again your secluded paths,
And find tranquility ’neath your canopy green,
Hidden away in my boyhood dreams.
Feel once again the ecstasy of your charms,
Tightly embraced in your boughy arms,
Held by the enchantment of nature’s power,
Lost in the placidness of childhood’s hour.
Deep within the walls of nature’s shroud,
Covered by the entanglement of vines and boughs,
A glimpse now and then of the forest’s kin,
A movement of the branches caused by the wind.
I wish forever I could stay ’neath your spell,
Learn of your secrets and promise not to tell,
To man for he would destroy,
The place of my dreams, I’ve held since a boy.
O destructive man, a lesson is taught
Amid the things that nature has wrought,
Everywhere the hand of God can be seen,
But most clearly in a cypress swamp,
By a winding stream.

Bill Shepard’s fourth book and his first children’s book has been published. Shepard and his family worked with an illustrator from Charleston to turn his mostly true story that he wrote nearly 50 years ago into a chapter book for kids. The book, “Fugi’s Great Adventure,” is $14.99 and is available from Amazon. You can order autographed copies from Shepard for $14.99 postpaid. Send orders to Bill Shepard, 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, SC 29673

Author: Rachel Howell

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