Essay: Lake Life

Deep Thoughts: Like two generations of my family before me, I have lake water in my blood. The source is a little-known reservoir in Northern Indiana.
Old photo of two girls by speed boat ride sign
Vera Nelle and Betty at Lake Manitou

Photo provided by Summer Daily

My boyfriend grew up in a suburb surrounded by asphalt, and has never quite understood my love for the water. When we go hiking, I wear my swimsuit under my clothes, ready to jump into any lake, river, or stream we happen to pass. I can’t help it. I grew up on a small lake in Northern Indiana where I learned to ski before I could walk, and drove a boat before anything with wheels. My summers were long stretches of wind-whipped hair tangled by boat rides, a greasy sunscreened back crisscrossed by tan lines, and calloused feet that rarely saw the inside of a pair of shoes. It’s the kind of summer that goes back generations in my family.

My grandma and great aunt—Vera Nelle and Betty—grew up in Indianapolis in the 1920s, but each summer, their family and a group of friends spent a week at Lake Manitou an hour and a half north in Rochester. The family rented the same little white cottage every year, and both Vera Nelle and Betty fell in love with their future husbands on those hot, sticky Indiana nights. We have boxes of old photographs of the two couples beaming from the pier, and although they would never admit it, I imagine kisses and shared sips of watery beer on those sandy shores.

Vera Nelle and Betty started their own families, but continued to rent the same cottage together each summer. My dad and aunt grew up tanning on the dock, fishing for supper, and watching boats speed by. My dad fell hard for the lake life and bought his own house on Manitou in 1989. If you stand on that pier and look out over the waves, you can just see Vera Nelle and Betty’s little white cottage. My siblings and I were born in that house, and although we eventually moved to another nearby lake, we popped by the original cottage every summer when my grandparents came to visit.

Today, we spend our summers shuffling between home, Lake Manitou, and Lake Michigan, dragging towels and beach chairs and suits, all weighted down with sand. My most treasured memories take place in front of those backdrops. The landlocked bodies of water became part of my identity, and the first time I visited an ocean, I couldn’t believe people got so excited about a salty version of Lake Michigan that tastes bad and burns your eyes. To this day, I never pass on an opportunity to get in fresh water. And although I came back to Indy for college and ended up staying, a summer day doesn’t go by that my heart doesn’t ache for the lake.