“Fifty years,” I said, thinking out loud.
“What’s that?” my husband, Bill, asked.
We were sitting on the front porch of our rental unit taking in the reds, pinks and oranges of another breathtaking sunset at Lake of the Ozarks. We were on vacation with our children and grandchildren and had found a quiet moment together while the rest of the family was finishing up dinner. “I was just thinking that I’ve been coming to this lake for at least 50 years.”
Bill took my hand and said, “That’s a lot of sunsets.”
“It sure is.” I nodded with a smile.
Sunset has been my favorite time of day since my first visit to Lake of the Ozarks, and I remember my very first sunset on the lake like it was yesterday. I must have been about seven or eight years old. My parents had taken my little sister, Sarah, and me to Lake of the Ozarks for vacation. We had borrowed my uncle’s RV and were watching the sun dip below the horizon from our campsite. Suddenly, everything seemed magical. Vivid in my memories are the bright pink color of the sky, the song of the crickets, the smell of our campfire and the gentle hum of the homemade ice cream maker going in the background.
The only time we ever had homemade ice cream was on these lake vacations. And, boy, was it a treat! That cool, creamy vanilla goodness tasted like summer. Over the years, Mom got creative and experimented with different flavors. I think my favorite was when Dad bought a bushel of peaches and she blended them in with the vanilla ice cream. That was the summer I turned 13. Dad taught us to fish that summer, and between tossing out lines and catching bass, Sarah and I spent hours exploring the trails. Our whole family even spent a day at Bridal Cave, checking out the incredible beauty of this underground attraction. And every night, we enjoyed Mom’s homemade ice cream on the deck, watching the sunset.
Then there was the summer, and the sunset, I got my first kiss. David was his name. He was from Southern Illinois, and his family was staying in the rental cabin next door to ours. I had the biggest crush on him from the moment I saw him. We spent every waking moment together for two weeks—swimming, boating and waterskiing. The last night of our vacation was bittersweet in that hopeless, heartsick, teenage affection sort of way. We sat on the shore of the lake and watched the sunset.
I don’t know if it was the orange haze that the sun cast over the lake or the effects of puppy love, but everything seemed to glow that night. Just as the sun hit the water, I heard David whisper, “One, two, three.”
I turned to see what he was counting, and then he kissed me. Sarah, who had snuck up behind us, started giggling, and David ran away, embarrassed. “See you next summer!” he turned and shouted before running inside his cabin.
I never saw David again, but I made other new friends at the lake year after year. When I was 19, a family with two girls the same age as Sarah and me stayed at the same lakeside resort. Julie and Allison became two of our dearest friends. Even our parents bonded and we ended up planning many of our family vacations to Lake of the Ozarks together over the years.
My senior year in college, the four of us girls took our very first trip to the lake without our parents.
But we did take the homemade ice cream maker with us. Traditions have to be upheld, after all. The ice cream ended up being a big soupy mess because we didn’t use enough ice. But we were determined to have our vacation treat. So, we turned them into milkshakes and drank them while munching on chocolate chip cookies.
We took one of my favorite photos that night, and I still have it in a frame in my living room. It’s of the four of us standing in front of the lake holding up our homemade milkshakes with a beautiful orange and purple sky behind us. Our youthful exuberance was matched in the beauty of the spectacular colors behind us.
When Bill and I got married, he quickly got on board with vacations to Lake of the Ozarks. It only took him one trip and one stunning sunset over the lake to understand how special this place is and how much it has to offer. It’s no wonder Lake of the Ozarks was the winner of USA Today’s “2016 Best Recreational Lake” award.
And when our first son was born, Bill started talking about fishing trips and boy’s weekends at the lake. We now have three grown sons, wonderful daughters-in-law and five grandkids. Lake weekends with their families have become as much of a tradition as our summer vacations.
“Grammy!” the little singsong voice of Charlotte, my four-year-old granddaughter, piped up in front of me and brought me back to the present. The rest of the family was spilling out onto the deck.
“Well, hello there, sweetheart. And what is that you have?” I asked her. Carefully using two hands as instructed by her mother, she proudly handed me a bowl of homemade blackberry ice cream, a recipe I have perfected over the years and passed on to my sons.
“It’s for you,” Charlotte giggled.
“Thank you so much. Why don’t you hop up here with me and we’ll eat it together?” I asked.
Charlotte smiled and climbed onto my lap as everyone grabbed a spot on the deck to enjoy bowls of ice cream. I watched as my family settled in to watch the sun sink beneath the water, smiling as the children jostled for position and requested seconds. Then I turned to Charlotte as she spoke to me.
“I love this cabin,” she said, looking out over the lake. “It’s so pretty here, Grammy.” She nestled into me and I snuggled her close, resting my cheek against her windblown curls. The light was just beginning to fade, the orange sky giving way to dark blue, and I caught a glimpse of the first stars. Another extraordinary sunset was nearly complete.
I gave Charlotte a squeeze and said, “Yes. Yes, it is.”Visit Lake of the Ozarks and start making your own sunset memories.