Of all the investments my dad has made over the years, the one with the highest return has to be the family lake house. I’m not talking about financial gain, although if he sold it today he would make a pretty penny. No, the lake house has more to do with relational yields than it does monetary success.
I am the youngest of three. The firstborn brother is nearly seven years older and the middle brother four years. Because of the age and gender differences, we weren’t especially close growing up. When we all married, we ended up in the same city. Yet with kids’ activities, jobs and other obligations, we still don’t see each other often, except for holidays and the occasional birthday party.
But summers are different. Most weekends, my parents, my brothers and their families, along with a plethora of friends and relatives descend on the house overlooking a lake in southern Indiana. Each family has their own bedroom so when we invite friends or other relatives, they camp out on mattresses in one of the rooms in the basement or if they’re lucky, they claim a room not occupied by one of the other families that weekend.
Couples have spent honeymoon weekends here. We’ve hosted family reunions, work parties, and silly “Olympic” games with several of our close family friends. Being on the water allows us plenty of options for fun: waterskiing, wake boarding and tubing, kayaking, rides on the wave-runner, swimming, fishing, diving competitions off the dock, floating in a circle with ropes tethering us together, playing on the sandy beach, and the occasional raft fight. We set up badminton nets and croquet courses. We eat and drink and read our books as we lay out on the dock. And if it’s a holiday weekend, there may be special events like triathlons, sailing regattas, and cookouts at a neighbor’s home.
Last night, we watched the annual fireworks which rival any mid-size city’s display. Ever since my nephews were young, we have picked a theme for the fireworks. For instance, one year we chose cereal. As each firework exploded, we would yell out what cereal came to mind. For green, we’d shout Apple Jack’s. For the purple ones, Grape Nuts. (I know, they’re not purple.) So far, we’ve covered sports teams, soda, country flags and last night was candy. But it wasn’t quite the same. As we gathered on the dock preparing for the show, my nephews along with my two oldest boys decided they wanted to take the boat out to the middle of the lake. Our house sits in perfect proximity for a clear view of the fireworks so there’s no need to take the boat out during fireworks. I wanted to tell them no, but I figured it was a rite of passage and reluctantly let them go. I thanked God when my youngest snuggled up next to me in the lounge chair as the first firework shot into the air.
Today it has been raining all day. Even with the downpour, this place offers a type of solace we wouldn’t have at home. There may be meals to cook, dishes to clean and laundry to wash, but when you have a lot of helping hands, the burden is light. At the lake house we have several weekends to do life in community rather than a once a year shot. I get to know my family members in ways I would never know if it weren’t for this place. I’m not talking about deep and intense conversations necessarily, although those happen, too. Rather, it’s the average, day to day interactions I appreciate. For instance I sit next to my niece as she paints her toenails and I decide to paint mine too. I come downstairs in the morning to find my mom sipping her coffee on the deck and I join her in silence as we’re both waking up. When I go down to the dock, I ask my nephew how he feels about starting college. As I’m making dinner with my cousin he tells me about his upcoming cancer surgery. And when the day is done, we gather on the upper deck to tell stories about the best tubing wipeout, or share memories that quickly turn into cackling laughter fests, complete with tears streaming down our faces.
Now and then, my mom and dad consider selling the place. When they do, we either threaten to put them in a nursing home or we make sure we invite all the fun relatives to come for the weekend. We cook the best food, tell the funniest stories and get all the grandkids to talk about the memories they’re making. We figure if the threats don’t work, a little manipulation goes a long way.