Each year, when I’ve found myself counting the days until school lets out, it’s been in anticipation of the muscle-clenching release I’ve been dreaming about for the last two months, fast approaching amid the flurry of finals, recitals, parties and projects.
Usually, there’s a list of purely mind-numbing activities to look forward to, and they all have to do with a place my family is both proud of and deeply embarrassed by.
The Lake House.
The lake house is where my folks live.
The lake house is where the rest of us want to live.
The lake house is where the summer unfolds itself like a giant picnic blanket, still holding all of last year’s ants and sandwich crusts. It’s beautiful. And horrible. And we love it.
Swimming is a big part of the summer escapades. The lake we swim in is manmade. Not for people, but for a rather large and unbecoming power plant. Apparently, nuclear power plants are big babies when it comes to getting just a little uncomfortable with the sticky Virginia heat.
The downside is that in August, when the term sweltering takes on new meaning—and you swear you’ll never use it out of context again—the lake is actually warmer than your January bath temperature preference. The fish go deep.
But according to folks who’ve only heard about the lake and like to poke fun at it, it’s not much of an issue to find the fish in the first place, as all things residing in the water glow in the dark and are two headed. If you can’t see where to cast, at least you’ve improved your chances of catching something by 50% simply because if one head isn’t hungry, the next one might be.
The fact that there are still plenty of folks who fly the Confederate flag is always a touchy subject. It’s difficult to admire someone’s ‘artful’ decision to do so from the perspective that they might truly believe it still is the national standard, and if you attempt correction, you’ll soon see an impressive array of shotguns that will have you dancing a quick two-step off their property.
Boats are judged not based on length, expense, or manufacturer, but rather decibel level. If you’ve the capability to make the experience of passing by your boat a duplicate to thirty seconds at a monster truck rally, you have finally tweaked your engine to its cherry spot.
The Fourth of July celebrations (most often starting the first of June) are always difficult to pinpoint. No one is ever certain if the neighbor a few docks down has a lawnmower that they’ve set to backfire just to spice up the weekly routine, is testing out a few homemade cherry bombs before the big event, or lost a hand of Mississippi Stud and is taking it out on the nearest beer cans in quick succession with whatever happened to be closest and loaded.
Finding yourself inundated with BBQ shacks, smoke-filled and grease-splattered, will leave you with an experience that is both calorically impossible to work off until next spring and addictive enough to become habitual. I show absolutely no judgment on my face when waltzing the isles of the local Wal-Mart, as I know if I lived next to Bubba’s Pig Patio all year round, my photo would doubtless be included in one of the mass emails of the monthly Wallyworld Wonders.
Watching the sun sink below the silky warm ripples of a quieting lake with a sweating glass of highly-herbed gin, bitter quinine-spiked tonic water, and a puckeringly tart wedge of lime will leave you breathless and filled with childlike wonder as the fireflies flicker in the blades of freshly mown grass and beneath the eves of sharp, sappy pine boughs.
The end of the summer comes at the same frightening speed as one of the occasional stray bullets that whiz past the side of the house, leaving a fresh graze on an old paint job. But the open wound soon becomes just another tale to reminisce during Christmas break when you’re outside lacing bushes with a netting of twinkling lights and setting up a crèche that puts you in a forgiving mood.
Okay, I’m kidding about the crèche. We don’t actually have one, but most folks around the lake are so excited for the Christmas season to start, there’s barely a day between taking down the red, white and blue bunting before the nailing of rain gutter icicles begin.
Leaving the lake house is usually fraught with my kids’ somber faces and grumpy dispositions. My folks, on the other hand, have a slight spring in their step and find it difficult to hold back their gleeful anticipation, knowing that within days, frat boys will disappear, no longer leaping from the rooftops of neighboring boathouses into the water, rap music will cease being the echoing film score to each meal eaten outside, and shortly the lake will be filled with nothing more than old bass boats drifting quietly along the shorelines. Ah, bliss.
We love it.
We hate it.
The lake house.