The House on the Lake

When we first visited the house on the lake, my kids were young, five and six years old. The house was barely a skeleton with an erected frame, some outside walls, and a wooden floor that spanned a generous slab of granite jutting out from the ground. This bulge of rock ended in a steep drop-off of about fifteen to twenty feet. Somewhat final plans were beginning to take shape. My Mom opened a roll of blueprints that she had labored over and showed me where the screened in porch would attach to the house. An outcrop of rock that poked into the way of normal floor dimensions would uniquely emerge from the floor in the corner of the porch. Since my mom loved the rock on the property, especially rock patterned with lichen and moss, the stone floor corner suited her perfectly.

Walkway between the porch and the house

A railed walkway would extend over the drop-off from the other side of the porch and wind around to the front of the house forming a balcony which faced the lake. Cantilevered posts would solve the architectural dilemma of how to support the walkway and balcony—cantilevered posts wedged firmly into the ground and angled against the bedrock underlying the house.

Mom & Dad, the back of the house beside the carport, porch to the left and side entrance

Other plans were still open to debate. Mom developed a sentimental attachment to a particular tree and didn’t want to cut it down. She and Dad were wrestling with the idea of whether or not to build part of the house around the tree.

A sense of adventure and excitement filled us all. My ex-husband was thrilled by prospects of daily fishing on the lake. My son Brad busied himself with chasing lizards and frogs and exploring the woods. My daughter Ericka and I hung out with my mom, took pictures, and went for walks around the lake. At night, like explorers on an expedition, we camped out in sleeping bags on the wood floor of the house.

From that point forward, our yearly vacations included visits to the lake house. With each visit, the house took on more personality through finishing touches and new additions. My Mom and Dad added a window to the side of the kitchen opening into the porch. Under the window on the porch side, they built a tiled counter so Mom could slide dishes of food out the window onto the counter. They placed a picnic table on the porch, on top of the stone floor ledge in the corner. We enjoyed most of our meals outside at the picnic table and often sat gazing at the wildlife across the lake.

View through the kitchen to the porch

Some mornings, deer appeared among the trees across the lake and drank from the water’s edge. One end of the lake was inhabited by beavers that built a dam. We would often hear the busy rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker or the occasional night song of a whippoorwill. After dusk, a boisterous chorus of frogs echoed their refrain across the lake, disabusing the idea of quiet nights in the woods–but still a reprieve from loud traffic and city noises.

There was a white heron that owned a section of lake directly across from the house, and he spent his time fishing with his enormously long beak. My dad’s binoculars provided close-up views of all these creatures and magnified a certain fascination for the banks on that opposite side.

Dad rigged up a motorboat with barely enough power to pull a skier, which became Ericka’s favorite pastime. He also built a floating dock, turning part of the lake into a swimming area. We had a wonderful time swimming, splashing each other and diving off the dock.

Ericka skiing on the lake

One of my favorite additions to the house included a modernistic wrought-iron, spiral staircase that ascended to a loft and balcony overlooking the living room/dining room area. The bunk beds I slept in as a child were set up in the loft, along with shelves of my books, some old toys and trinkets, and a weathered, wooden chest that used to belong to my grandmother. A perfect hideaway for the kids, who loved sleeping in bunk beds, the loft was tucked away with a view of the rooms below.

The house was not without its practical peculiarities, all built to accommodate my parents’ particular desires. A carport was constructed with a workshop attached at the back. Extending off the workshop with steps leading underground was my dad’s tornado pit, complete with a sink, bed, extra water, and dried foods. The tornado pit was a shelter of many names, starting out as a “bomb shelter” which continued until the Cold War ended. Having outlived that era, it then became the “tornado pit.” A bit later it turned into the “Y2K shelter” and when Y2K flickered out like a dud firecracker, it became the tornado pit again.

Mom planned her cupboard spaces with certain functions in mind. The shallowest cupboard I ever saw was measured and built to house her ironing board. There was a skylight over my parent’s bathroom and a solar heating wall filled with sand up in the loft. When the tall picture windows in the living room/dining room area let too much heat escape during the winter, my mom and dad designed and built shutters made from Styrofoam. Covered with coarse linen cloth and painted beige, the shutters fit inside the tall windows and became part of the decor.

The house split into several levels. Three steps on both sides of the enormous fireplace descended into the open living room/dining room area. The vaulted ceiling angled down from above the balcony and loft to meet tall picture windows that looked out onto the lake. Sliding doors on either side of this spacious room opened up onto the outside walkway and balcony that ran in front of its large picture windows.

Living room, fireplace and partial view of the loft

Of all the house’s unusual characteristics, the fireplace stood out as one of the most spectacular. You couldn’t help but notice it when you walked in the front door. Centered in the middle of the house, between two sets of descending steps into the living room, the fireplace extended from the floor to the top of the high vaulted ceiling. It was not traditionally shaped, but had a hollowed out section between the two groupings of mortared stones. The front section contained a black wrought-iron, angular stove where you placed logs. Also unique was the pattern in which the stones were laid—horizontally not vertically. However, most amazing of all was the fact that my mom and dad hauled a myriad of rocks from their property and with their own hands built the fireplace, lifting and laying it stone by stone.

With black slate floors, counters of turquoise ceramic tiles in the kitchen, rust red-orange tiles in the guest bathroom and master bathroom, warm brown carpets, and olive green accents, the house was a striking palette of colors. Equally alluring were the decorations of Mexican pots, lamps, candelabras, and other rustic treasures Mom and Dad had collected from their travels.

Throughout the years of our visits, (when I lived with Dad and after Dad went into assisted care) the house continued to hold its charm. It remains such a reflection of my parents in their golden years that I could never bring myself to sell or rent it to pay for Dad’s living assistance. So there it lies in its nook of the woods. The house on the lake sits perched on the rock like an old friend patiently awaiting my next visit. And with each visit, we renew our friendship and re-create cherished memories—memories of family, the magic of nature, and the aesthetic story of how it came to life.

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11 Responses to “The House on the Lake”

  1. writerchick Says:

    what an amazing story and place. i would love to have such a beautiful haven to go to. i know you must cherish it – especially since it was really created and built by your own parents.

    it’s amazing how much your dad accomplished in his life. incredible.
    WC

  2. Popsgirl Says:

    You’re so right. The house is becoming more and more a memory of who my parents were because they put so much of themselves into designing and building it. I really do cherish it. My dad was a go-getter. I have a lot to admire and remember about him. It helps to think about the good things when dealing with the sad, last chapters of his life. Thanks for understanding.

    ~ PG

  3. writerchick Says:

    I totally understand. I’m just glad that you can and do share him with us. For it is indeed a gift that you give not just to him but to those of us he read the chapters of his life.
    love
    Annie

  4. Photo Buffet Says:

    I can so relate to your posts. I lost my dad last August and his dementia had taken a downward spiral in the six months before he passed. Both my parents are gone now; they both passed in the month of August, two years apart. Like your mom, mine left quite suddenly, too. Said goodnight, and they talked about plans for the next day, but she never woke up.

    Every summer we would go to a cabin in the woods. I still dream about that place–it has a pull on me like your lake house–and can still smell that first whiff of fireplace/knotty pine when we would step into the place. In my mind, it represents so many good years together.

    Your blog is a blessing. I know someday you’ll be glad you kept this record, too. I’m glad I have journals–spiral notebooks of thoughts I kept all through the years.

  5. Alexa Says:

    …….

  6. Gordon (aka Geezer Dude) Says:

    Thank you for sharing a great story.

    The pictures of the house remind me of one of my favorite places. It’s also the kind of place I would like to find and buy. I understand your reasons for not wanting to sell or rent it.

    My mother has dementia and it is tough seeing a loved one go through that.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  7. popsgirl Says:

    Photo Buffet –

    Your similar experiences, understanding and acknowlegement mean a lot to me. When you try to capture your experiences and find the right words to describe them, you hope that others will be able to relate and share them too.
    I’m sorry to hear of your father and mother’s passing. I know how difficult that must have been. But I’m so glad you kept your journals and know that as time goes by, the thoughts and memories you’ve rounded up and put into words will be a comfort over and over again, as mine are for me.

    Popsgirl

  8. popsgirl Says:

    Hey Gordon, aka Geezer Dude,

    Dementia is definitely a tough and slow decline. I guess you can just be glad that you’re not suddenly robbed by an unexpected passing. It seems to be nature’s way of letting you know that your loved one taken a different turn in life, in some ways, a more gentle reckoning with the inevitable end that lies around the corner. In other ways, very difficult to deal with.

    You’re welcome for the story, and I’m glad the house reminds you of your favorite places. I’ve gone a step further beyond not renting or selling the house. My husband and I just moved into it a few weeks ago. It made no sense not to enjoy it all the time.

    Thanks for responding to my blog.

    ~ PG

  9. Angie Says:

    This is so beautiful and touching. I lost my parents a few years ago, I miss them terribly. What wonderful memories you must have of this beautiful place. Doubly so that they are in every nook and cranny. Thanks for sharing.

  10. popsgirl Says:

    Angie,

    You’re welcome. Yes, I really feel blessed to have this remembrance of my parents. I truly treasure it. Thanks for understanding.

  11. Maggie Says:

    I just found your blog today, on The Yellow Wallpaper blogroll. Lost both my parents last year, Dad had vascular dementia, and when he had to go into a nursing home Mum seemed to “lose it” very suddenly, dying of dementia and sepsis in September, just 6 and a half weeks after Dad died.

    Thank you for blogging about your Dad’s last days – I find it helps a lot reading other people’s experiences.

    The house on the lake looks wonderful, and I’m so glad to read above that you have moved into it. How lovely to live in a house actually built by your parents and to their own design.

    I wondered if you are blogging elsewhere now? If so I’d love to read.

    Best wishes from windy Liverpool.

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