The Golden Lake Days of Childhood

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fruit kabobs and baked beans.

Those are the two things I think of first when I recall my favorite summer days spent at my grandparent's lake house. There was something so novel to me about sliced watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries put on a stick. Sometimes my mom would even cut up small slices of kiwi, which absolutely blew my mind because it was kiwi!

I’d get mad when she’d put grapes on the skewer. Normally I loved grapes, but they weren’t fancy enough for a kabob.

My Grandma Pat's baked beans were pure heaven; a meat medley of bacon, ham, and sausage with honey glazed beans throughout. A treat she only made for summer parties at the lake.

We’d pack the cooler and drive the five miles outside of town to “Andy’s Lake.” I’d insist every time my mom point out which cabin belonged to the infamous, “Andy,” a person whom I imagined was the richest man ever to have an entire lake named after him!

My dad would usually join us a few hours later. He always had to stay home and do “lawn work,” he said. Years later, I think “lawn work” meant having a few beers alone before heading to the day-long lake party at the in-laws.

I can still hear the way the gravel would crunch under my mom’s blue Nissan Stanza as we made the turn toward my grandparent's house; the lake on one side, the Elkhorn river on the other. I saw a newspaper article once about a car accidentally driving into that river and it haunted me forever. Every time we made that curve I had to focus on the lake, fearful my mom might accidentally lose control on the gravel, sending us straight into a snake infested watery death.

I was always anxious to finally pull into the driveway because the first grandkids to arrive got their pick at the best lifejackets from the small white shed out front. No one wanted to get stuck with the enormous 1970s yellow foam jackets. I’ve never worn a koozie before, but I imagine it would be similar. I can only assume my grandparents kept those 70s monstrosities around just to punish the latecomers.

After claiming our lifejackets we’d rush the water to claim the next prizes the lake held for us, the huge yellow circular raft, the tire swing, dibs on the first tube ride!

On a humid Midwest summer day, where a simple ten minute car ride could have you sweating through your shirt, there wasn’t a better feeling than that first sprint toward the lake. Heaving yourself off the dock as far as possible, legs tucked into your arms, screaming “CANON BALL!” Free falling until you were swallowed up by the cold crisp water, a quick rush of fear as the darkness fell over you, holding you just long enough before it was time to bob back up toward the surface.

As the cousins arrived the water competitions began. Who could jump off the dock the furthest? Do a flip. A cartwheel. Stay under water the longest. We’d do anything we could to entertain ourselves while we waited for grandpa to get the “boat ready.”

I had no idea what this entailed back then, and to be honest, I still don’t know. Why wasn’t it already ready? It was in the water. It had fuel. I swear you could smell the tangy scent of boat gas that dripped from my grandpa's brown speedboat from our house in town, five miles away.

It was a smell I loved.

All that I knew was that we weren’t supposed to bug Grandpa Dick while he “got it ready.” He’d tinker on the boat canopy, or the lift it was on, for what felt like hours, while all of us grandkids sat on the dock and watched, our feet dangling off the edge in the water, daring crappie fish to nibble on our toes.

When we were just about to give up, he’d pull the brown boat out of its holding cell, cigar in mouth, and announce it was time! And with the summer sunlight bouncing off the dark water, reflecting back onto the boat, the sides of that brown 80s speedboat absolutely glistened. I remember thinking it actually had a coat of glitter on it when the light was just right.

Then two at a time, seated in a pink inner tube with a thin black lining on the bottom, Grandpa Dick would pull us around the small lake, circle after circle. We’d scream for our lives, and hang onto the handles until our knuckles were white, our small bodies tossed about when he’d purposely hit the big waves, or take a turn too sharp.

SLOW DOWN! I’d shout, desperately giving the universal thumbs down signal.

What’d she say? My grandpa would ask.

Speed up, they want to go faster, my brother would always respond.

Eventually our luck would wear out and the tube would hit a wave at the perfect spot and it would send us flying in the air, skidding across the top of the water like a pair of skipped rocks.

Sometimes tears were shed, sometimes they weren’t. We all knew that the worse the wipeout, the better story to tell the following summer.

When my turn was over and I’d take my seat back on the boat, wrapped in a towel most likely stolen from the local pool, my arms would throb from holding on so tightly. Goosebumps would travel down my legs as my wet cold hair blew in the wind as the boat picked up speed.  But I didn’t care. I was in my summer element.

Now it was the boy cousins’ turn around the lake.

Go faster, Grandpa. A lot faster! I’d lie as I watched with a smirk on my face as my brother was in the same fearful misery I was just in.

After everyone had their turn, or when grandpa was tired of driving the boat (whichever came first) we’d head back to shore.

My Grandma Pat would be standing on the slope of their yard, in her floral mumu and slip-on mules, with one hand on her hip, the other on her forehead shading herself from the sun trying to see the boat pull in. The look on her face usually somewhere  between a frown and smile.

“Time to eat.” She’d proclaim. “But first, I want my picture.

Grandma’s picture was the same every year. She’d insist all of the grandchildren line up from youngest to oldest. We knew not to fight it or our name would be, “M.U.D.” It always had to be grandma’s way or the highway.

I don’t ever recall my grandma actually saying a real curse word other than her beloved “M.U.D.” (always spelled out as if were in fact an actual naughty word,) but she didn’t have to, because she could throw a scowl that would make anyone back down.

After the photo, the adults would set out the food dishes they’d brought in the screened-porch area. I’d go straight for the kabobs and baked beans.

“Taylor, quit picking out all the meat!” Grandma would bark as she’d slap my hand away. I’d immediately stop. Until she wasn’t looking, at which point I went right back to scooping out the bacon and the ham.

I’d always sneak inside and ask to use two plates because I hated when my beans and fruit touched. But Grandma Pat didn’t stand for such nonsense, “It all goes to the same place, anyway. Now get back outside, you’re getting my carpet all wet.”

And so all of the kids would sit outside on our miniature lawn chairs, plates in our laps, as we ate our food as fast as our stomachs would allow, anxious to get back in the water.

For the next few hours we’d play until our hands were pruney, our backs and shoulders were crisp with sun heat, and our exhaustion levels hit the point of picking fights with each other just because we could.

As daylight disappeared the water seemed to grow annoyed with us and would suddenly turn cold, not so subtlety telling us it was time to get out. We’d stagger up the slimey water steps, desperately looking for any dry towel that remained to wrap around our shivering bodies.

The canopy on the boat lift would wave toward the brown beauty, announcing it was time to return to its bunk for the evening.

And just before the sun disappeared for good, it would make one final stretch over the water, as if signaling to us with a silent, “see ya later!”

As with all good things in life, the golden days at my Grandparent's lake house would end sooner than I would have expected. The lake home was sold, relatives moved away, such is the way life unfolds.

I sometimes wonder if there was a sneaking feeling inside all of us that knew the home at Andy's Lake wouldn't be around forever, because I really feel like we did our best to make the most of those days.

Or maybe that’s just my rose colored mumu speaking. I guess I'll never really know.

Several years after the home was sold, my grandma passed away on a hot July day.

She now sits in a brown bean pot, on a bookshelf at my parent's house.

And if you think that I'm just taking this time to make an oddly inappropriate dark joke, I assure you I'm not. That's what she wanted.

And it was Grandma's way or the highway.


  1. This reminds me SO much of the days at my grandparents lake house, some of the best memories were made there!

    Beautifully written as always Tay!


  2. One of your best posts to date - rife with the best kind of nostalgia. Happy summer!

  3. Loved this post! Your childhood sounds amazing, and the pictures are priceless.!

  4. It is incredibly hard to put people into words. We're all too complex, and that's a good thing. But man if I didn't get choked up at the end because I felt like I knew just a small piece of who your grandmother was. Beautifully done.

  5. This was beautiful! I grew up visiting "the lake" in Maine every summer and there's nothing better than summer days on the lake. Truly, thanks for sharing.

  6. So, I don't comment on blog posts ever (I just stalk them like the creep that I am...) but this was SO beautifully written, I just had to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it!
    I'm from CA and my grandparents lived in MI, right on a small lake. And this post brought me right back to those wonderful summer times we had there as kids. Thank you for writing this!

  7. I love your stories. Seriously. I can picture everything like I was there. Thank you for sharing your talent for writing and humor and just being an awesome human!

  8. Yes I agree with everyone else, your writing absolutely sparkles in this piece, leaving me reminiscing on the details I relate with and thirsty to experience the ones that don't reflect my own experiences. Either way, here I am in the Hobby Lobby parking lot practically in nostalgic tears!

  9. Some of my best memories were made out there...a place we still call home ❤