“We have structure.” At the sound of the divers’ words, Debbie Fletcher’s heart jumped as a lifetime of memories and pent-up emotions suddenly washed over her. Later, when she saw “house intact” scribbled on the diver’s slate, Debbie says she just “lost it.”
This emotional moment is the culmination of years of searching, looking for a part of her that Debbie feels was snatched away thirty-nine years ago. That’s when the local utility company, wanting to harness enough hydroelectricity to supply the area’s growing population, flooded the Jocassee valley in the northwest corner of South Carolina where her family’s homestead was located. For the power company, the result was Lake Jocassee. For Debbie, the result was a broken heart.
When the flood waters rushed in, Debbie knew life spent at the homestead, known as Attakulla Lodge, was something that would only live in her memories. However, she was determined to let others, especially her children, know how much the place meant to her. So, when her mother died suddenly over a decade ago, Debbie decided to write a book.
In it, she recalls seeing the lodge just before flood waters filled the valley. “It was like saying goodbye to a dying friend, but without the hope of Heaven’s reunion.” Years would pass before Debbie would stumble onto something that would serve as a catalyst to channel the grief over her lost childhood haunt and her mother’s death into a lifelong mission, finding Attakulla Lodge.
While going through her mother’s belongings, Debbie found a cassette tape recording her mother had made describing life at the lodge. She knew she not only needed to write down her own memories but she also needed to look for the family homestead. Exactly how was another question.
Then, in 2004, Debbie got a strange phone call. Some avid scuba divers who had learned of the lodge submerged in Lake Jocassee contacted Debbie, expressing an interest in searching for her family’s summer home. For the first time in three decades, Debbie felt the embers of hope rekindle in her heart. Maybe, just maybe she would get a glimpse of something that would confirm her newfound hope was not in vain.
Later that summer, Debbie set out on an adventure with a team of relatives, divers, and a television crew to search for Attakulla Lodge. They boarded a small boat carrying a video camera, divers' slates and an underwater light. Then, they headed toward the point on Lake Jocassee where the team believed the structure was submerged. Debbie waited and watched the video feed as divers slowly descended into the water's depths.
Then she heard the words she’d dare not dream of until now. The underwater search party said that they had found the house. Her eyes were riveted on the TV monitor, hope welling up inside her. “When I saw the horizontal windows of the dining hall, I knew for sure they belonged to the lodge,” recounts Debbie.
As divers began slowly ascending back to the surface, they started sending written messages on what they had found. Amazingly, Attakulla Lodge was still standing intact on its foundation! “It was the greatest moment of my life,” she recalls as she heard the news. “It was a part of Jocassee that I thought was lost to me forever and that I would never have a connection with again.”
Reflecting on her project-turned-life-mission, Debbie admits there is, perhaps, a silver lining. She has preserved her family history through the pages of her book, and, in so doing, she has given her children a way to experience her most precious childhood memories. “One thing that I felt I sacrificed when Jocasse valley was flooded was the chance to take my children back to the place where I spent the absolute best years of my life. So, I wrote a book to record my memories.” Now, she has found something from that lost season in her life to hand down to her kids.