Your recent article about the planned improvements to Colonial Lake stirred some pleasant memories in my old brain. After arriving in Charleston in 1941 as an 11-year-old, Colonial Lake, several blocks from where my family lived, became one of my favorite hangouts. I spent many enjoyable hours crabbing and fishing in it, although all I ever caught were toadfish, the ugliest and most useless fish known to man.
The bench-lined sidewalk around the lake, with little pedestrian traffic and no danger from automobiles, was an ideal bikeway for racing and for roller-skating — provided “Pompey” wasn’t lurking nearby to catch you and confiscate your bike or skates.
Pompey, whose real name was Spencer C. Schill, was a middle-aged plainclothes juvenile police officer who patrolled the streets of Charleston on a bicycle looking for young scofflaws up to any mischief, including skating and bike riding where they shouldn’t.
Any time he passed by, some kid well hidden behind a bush or tree or automobile was bound to yell, “Pompey ride the rooster just like he uster!” a cry every kid in Charleston knew well. The “rooster” was his red bicycle.
My favorite remembrance of Colonial Lake involves Pompey: One day, the A & P grocery store downstairs from where my family lived placed some old bread racks behind the store. After they sat several days, three playmates and I pronounced them discarded.
We dismantled them by removing the pipes and spacers that held them together. With a saw and hammer and some nails, we fashioned a rectangular shaped boat from the wooden shelves. We generously coated the seams of the boat inside and out with roofing tar to make the boat waterproof.
We had planned to hand-carry it to Colonial Lake and launch it. However, the tar made the already heavy boat almost too heavy for four young boys to lift, much less carry several blocks to the lake. We had to load it on a wagon to get it there.
With much fanfare we launched it and embarked on its maiden voyage toward the other side of the lake. A gallon of roofing tar notwithstanding, water immediately began seeping slowly through her seams. We helplessly watched it cover our feet and ankles and begin working its way up our legs as we rowed furiously to get to the other side. We rowed in vain. She slowly settled to the bottom halfway across. As we stood in her, water up to our chests, wondering what to do, a voice boomed from the far sidewalk, “You boys are under arrest. Come on in.”
There sat Pompey on the side of the lake in his usual uniform, a business suit and tie and a straw hat, astride the red rooster, waving for us to come in.
“What for?” we asked.
“For swimming in the lake.”
“But we’re not swimming. We’re in a boat.”
Seeing no boat, he naturally thought we were being smart-alecky. His face became as red as the rooster. “Don’t get smart with me. You get in here right now, or I’ll make it even worse for you.”
Knowing we would never convince him we were really in a boat, which was now firmly stuck in the lake’s muddy bottom, we started slogging our way toward the other shore. Riding the rooster at breakneck speed halfway around the lake, he sat mopping his brow and waiting for us.
We turned and headed back the other way, but he headed us off again. We stopped and refused to come out of the water. Apparently having more pressing business elsewhere, he rode off after sitting astride the rooster and stewing several minutes.
We waited in the water another 10 minutes to make sure he had gone and was not trying to fake us out, then crawled out, grabbed the wagon, and hightailed it for home.
I hope the improved Colonial Lake proves to be as exciting an attraction to kids of today’s generation as it was to kids of mine, and that it has a modern day Pompey to watch over them.
J. G. Braddock Sr.
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