My Improbable Vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks

dad daughter boat lakeI wouldn’t have predicted this in a thousand years, but as I write this, I’m on holiday at the Lake of the Ozarks smack dab in the middle of Missouri with my 13yo daughter and her best friend.

What makes this remarkable is that it’s Linda’s vacation house we’re staying in here.

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Every summer almost from the beginning of our relationship we came out here to her family’s lake house to spend a week, a few weeks and, ultimately a month or more each year with our children. Her dad and I got along famously so we’d stay up late talking and I’d help him with all his endless tinkering jobs, while we enjoyed speedboats, jet skis, swimming, boat trips to restaurants with public docks and general lake activities. All told, I’ve probably spent 3-4 months of my life here in the Ozarks, if not more.

Until we divorced.

About ten years ago the house at the lake switched from our family place to Linda’s place with the kids. Quite appropriately, but since it’s always been a family tradition to be here for the madness and chaos of July 4, I couldn’t help but feel left out when year after year the kids were in Missouri for Independence Day and I was flying solo in Colorado. But that’s how it goes with a divorce and I was resigned to it, even if I occasionally thought about fireworks I could take my kids to see in Colorado anyway.

girls walking on dock

This year things have been challenging both with our children and in Linda’s life and when she cried “uncle” and called off the annual trip to the lake for Independence Day, I somewhat whimsically offered to take K- to the lake instead. Much to my surprise, she assented. Then realized she had to head into Kansas City (a 2+ hour drive from the Lake) for a few days anyway so decided to pop down to the lake house after all, just for a weekend.

dinner lakeside

Our schedules ended up overlapping a few days since she brought the girls down, and we ended up having a very nice afternoon of reminiscing as we boated around and dragged the girls on a tube for hours. We even made it across the lake to the Jolly Roger, a lakeside restaurant that features creepy-big carp in the water and a real (albeit small) pirate ship.

Quite honestly, K- was a bit disconcerted about the whole thing; she’s used to her Mom and I not getting along so great and that being something she can exploit (kids and divorce, it’s a really common phenomenon). But here we were chatting and being quite friendly towards each other! Go figure.

girls tubing airborne air lake water

And so I’m here with the girls for another week and it’s good. There’s so much about the house I remember, books I left here a decade ago, and so many sensory memories too, of evening tree frogs, of fireflies, of the smell of the rain as it zips through the area, of the old piano, the F&P dishwasher, even the junk piled up in the garage. Her father is a palpable presence here too, in a really good way, and I’m really thankful for this opportunity to bring my girl on a summer holiday and revisit happier times both.

It’s just… amazing to be here.

Note: The Lake of the Ozarks is pretty surprisingly cool, visible from space with its 1100+ miles of shoreline and 92 mile length. Created by the construction of the Bagnell Dam in 1931, it was the largest man-made lake in the United States for many years. And, yes, it’s kind of hillbilly country too.

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