The lake house

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


The world is wide and vast, and yet my favorite place isn?t under the bright lights of Sunset Boulvard, at a base of a glacier in Yellowstone or on the sandy beaches of North Carolina, it?s just down the way, through the winding blacktop of a long forgotten Missouri highway, where grass sprouts through the cracks of the centerline, and down a dusty gravel road.

For as long as I can remember my grandparents lived at the lake ? first in a trailer, which they boarded up for the long Missouri winters before retreating back to a home in Illinois, and then in the one-bedroom house Grandpa built by hand.

The vibrant and funky carpet in the trailer was replaced by a soft, dusty rose colored carpet in the house. Those are the changes I remember ? prefabricated chaos of the trailer was subdued into delicate details in Grandma?s house.

Nothing was over stated, just nice and neat. I always harassed Gram about her pink carpet, which matched perfectly with her rose printed couch. But that carpet was my favorite place to take a nap; curled up in front of the fau-fireplace, where the sunlight from the afternoon skies filtered through the window and warmed me like only simmering logs could.

While my siblings and cousins spent a week during the summer at our grandparents? home in Illinois, I had afternoons at the lake.

Those afternoons, Grandpa was usually out fishing or helping a neighbor on a project, so it ended up just being Grandma and I.

The walk to the beach was too steep and too far for Grandma to make so as I made my way barefoot across the gravel road and through the razer sharp blades of grass to the smooth sandy shores of the beach, she perched herself on the porch swing.

The house had a pristine view of the beach so as I swam Grandma rocked to and fro, binoculars in hand, forever keeping an eye on me. Grandma?s rule for swimming by myself was simple, I could only go chest deep.

After years and years of abiding by Grandma?s rule, I decided to test the limits. I waded in deeper and deeper, the water lapping over my chest and then my shoulders. I dipped under the water, swam beneath the buoysmarking the swimming area, and popped up on the other side where the lake seemed to stretch on forever.

Just as quickly as I had broken Grandma?s rule, I was back on the law-abiding side. I learned one thing that day, Grandma knew everything.

?I think you went a little deeper than you?re supposed to be,? she said, her back to me as I walked into the kitchen to grab an iced oatmeal cookie that she always had hidden away for my sister. ?And I know you still have sand on your feet.?

I tiptoed out the door onto the screened in porch to dust off my feet and stew about what Grandma might do to me for disobeying. Who would have thought she was actually watching me through the binoculars the whole time? Living in fear ended up being my punishment.

The lake wasn?t just for my enjoyment, it was for everyone and oftentimes the setting for our family get-togethers. In my younger years we seemed to make up holidays just for an excuse for the family to come together at the lake.

While my cousins and I were at the beach or down by the dock using one of Grandpa?s dozens of reels to catch a fish big enough to have our picture on the community board (Grandpa was the only one to achieve this), Grandma was whipping up a delicious meal.

No matter what we were doing, our time together was filled with laughter and a lot of love.

As the years rolled on and we got older, our weekends at the lake became fewer and further between. And when Grandpa passed last summer, less than a year after his beloved Ruthie, I wondered if all we?d have would be our memories at the lake.

It wasn?t just Grandma and Grandpa?s lake, it belonged to their neighbors within the private community. And with the Henson?s gone, we were no longer anyone?s guests.

My brother and his wife purchased our grandparent?s house. They have big plans to retire there someday, but for now it?s just a weekend getaway. I?ve made sure to nab an open invitation. But then the fear came, would the lake still be my favorite place without my favorite people making it so special?

Over the long weekend my brother and sister-in-law opened up their new home. The walls have been painted and Grandma?s rose printed couch has been replaced with something more stylish, and a lot more comfortable.

The decor is a nod to our grandparents and the history and memories they made there and a step forward toward something new. I loved it, but it also made me incredibly sad. The house no longer smelled of Grandma and Grandpa, it had faded away.

As I lay on the porch swing, the same place Gram had once watched me swim, I heard it, the sound of laughter tumbling down the hill toward the water?s edge. It made me smile. I know it would have made Grandma and Grandpa smile and I remembered what I had felt the day after Grandpa died.

I parked my car at the beach, it seemed weird to have a vehicle at the house when nobody was home. My flip-flops were left haphazardly in the sand as I waded into the water, standing where the water would have once hit my chest.

I looked out to the house atop the hill and even though I knew nobody was sitting on the porch swing watching me through binoculars, I could feel them. I felt as full and safe and loved as I did as a kid and I knew whenever I need to be reminded of their love and strength the lake is where I can go to find it.