“I saw the lake first!”
and other treasured family traditions

“I see the lake, I see the lake!”

Every year, my six siblings and I would crowd and elbow one another as we jockeyed for the coveted spot in the Volkswagon bus so we would be the first to see Shadow Lake as we drove the final stretch of narrow, winding road to my grandparent’s summer camp.

In an instant, the interior of the van would be rocked by our near simultaneous caterwauling. “I saw it first!” “No you didn’t; you yelled before you even saw it!” “Mom, Dad, he/she cheated!”

Honestly, I don’t know how my parents still function as wonderful and reasonably normal human beings.

For decades, we made that annual three hour trek to our beloved 4th of July reunion at Camp C’est La Vie.

In a van with seven kids. Before safety belts and the interstate highway, and DVD players, iPhones,  iPads and Nintendo handheld gaming systems.

Back then, we would amuse ourselves by making a game of counting the animals on our side of the road, which inevitably ended in arguments as well: “Ha ha! I’m going to win! I just counted 112 cows.” “No!! Cows don’t count!” “I just saw a white horse-25 points for me!” “You did not. You are such a liar! The only white horse is at that barn by the camp, and it will be on my side this year.”

When we tired of that fun activity, the only other pastime was to pick on each other until the one or more of the siblings hissed, “I’m telling!”

And so it went until our parents threatened to turn around and drive back home.

Ah, the good old days.

In our defense, the VW Bus was designed for bickering. There were no restraining devices, and my parents had removed the middle bench. It was almost like having a mobile wrestling ring where we could irritate play with one another.

Once we arrived at camp, the van would barely come to a stop. Whoever was closest to the door would quickly slam it wide open. A seemingly endless parade of kids would tumble out, much like the clown cars from the circus, and we would all run for the beach out front.

There was just so much to enjoy: big, soft hugs from the grandparents, yummy and seemingly endless snacks of cheese and crackers and veggies and chips and dips, the warm and sandy beach, and of course, the lake.

We’d swim and play until our lips were blue and our teeth were chattering. We’d run out back to the lawn where the sun would thaw our chilly limbs. While we were there, we’d check the progress on the homemade ice cream. We’d dip our feet in the small bucket  of water to clean off the sand so we could zip back inside for a bite or two, and then head back out, slamming the screen door behind us, to play croquet or horseshoes, or build castles in the sand.

I can still hear the slow, grinding grrrrrr of the underpowered electric motor struggling under the weight of the roast my great uncle would proudly cook every year. I can see my grandfather and uncle  tending the grill, carefully watching over those sizzling hamburgs and hotdogs. Inside the camp, I can smell the familiar aroma of my gram’s homemade potato salad, and my mouth waters at the bounty of it all.

After a satisfying lunch—the only time we would sit still and be quiet—my uncle would carve large wedges of ice cold watermelon that had been cooling in the tiny stream that ran right alongside the camp into the lake. If we were feeling brave, we’d jump in, only to holler in shock at the arctic temperature, and jump right back out again.

Although the day had to have been a long one for our parents, it was just never long enough for us when we were little kids. There was always just a little more ice cream and fresh strawberries to be eaten, and  just one more jump off the dock into the lake.

The day, however, would eventually come to an end. We would pile into the VW, tired, sandy and worn out, and would spend the ride home reliving the highlights of another marvelous holiday.

We grew up, my grandparents grew older, and there came a time a few years ago when those days at the lake were no more.

Camp C’est la Vie—This is the life!—had lived up to and beyond the name my grandparent’s bestowed upon it.

I am so grateful for our tradition of spending the Fourth at the camp and hold those memories especially dear.

As I wrote previously:

Traditions give us a sense of joy and belonging . They create stories that never grow old in the re-telling. We share them with one another and also with the younger generation, eliciting much laughter and shaking of heads. These traditions were ours for a season, to be enjoyed for the sweet, sweet time they were part of the rhythm of our lives.

The message I share today is a simple one: Traditions don’t have to be large, grand and expensive  to be memorable. Just love, be good to and have fun with your family. Realize there is happiness right where you are. Find joy in the simple things.


Ecclesiastes 3:12  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. (NIV)


Thank you so much for joining me and everyone else here, and I hope you’ve found inspiration and encouragement. I invite you to join the conversation today, especially if you’ve been hanging back. The waters fine, and everybody’s just so sweet!


Questions: How do you spend the 4th of July? What traditions and memories are you creating with your family?  What is your favorite activity for the 4th?

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  1. This cracked me up! I can relate to the sibling bickering. You’ve described exactly the kind of vacation I want my kids to experience – especially the part about no iPads! I could do without the bickering, though. A mom will dream.

    I mentioned you with a Liebster award on my blog today – hope you don’t mind!

    • Glad it made you laugh, Becky! Ahh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a vacation with no bickering? I suppose it gives us something to write and laugh about later. :-)
      Thanks so much for the award-you’re so sweet!

  2. I loved reading about your family!! I bet it was fun reliving that and capturing it in words.

    Family traditions are precious and really bind us together. When life gets hectic and busy, it’s easy to neglect our time together, but it’s SO worth the effort. Now that my kids are in college, I’m glad we insisted on certain things and wish we’d done even more. But the great thing is — it’s never to late to start a new tradition!

    Hugs from storm-ravaged VA — thanks for praying for us!

    • You and VA are in my prayers, Susan.
      It was fun reliving it. I chuckled my way through the post as I wrote it, envisioning my ragtag siblings and I and our antics from so long ago.
      My husband and I discovered it was bittersweet to let certain traditions go because they were no longer a good fit for our older girls. However, it was just an opportunity to start new ones, just as you discovered. Do you have some suggestions for moms of college kids?

      • I’ll think about that! One thing my kids love is to go out for breakfast when they’re home. And they love playing games, watching movies at home, fixing meals together. They’re almost out of college, so they like to stay home and be with the family, which is really nice. The first year or two they hang out with their friends. I’m glad we’re past that now. I love having them home :)

  3. Love the post…so many things to remember…Gram’s onion rings, dressing up with the egg carton glasses, rinsing the feet to get onto the deck…I sometimes feel with all of the technology today that my family has missed out on the little things that end up being great memories.

    • *Big sigh* Ahhhh. Gram’s onion rings. Such yummy goodness! And those egg carton glasses we’d wear in the parade with our mop head hair and candy cigarettes. Wow, is that going back!
      I agree-the technology tends to separate us even when we are together. It’s never too late to start to have tech free family days, though. . . Oh, wait, I can hear the screams of protest from here. :-)
      Thanks for stopping by to chat, dear sister Cinder!

  4. Good memories all! And to that I would add: standing on the dock, spotting crayfish by the rocks and wiffle ball games in the back yard (hitting it across the road[!] was a home run). When we were older, getting there the night before meant waking up at camp, which bordered on magical. That is, assuming you were actually able to get some sleep in the World’s Worst Beds®. 😉

  5. It was magical to wake up at the lake, wasn’t it? Oh, those beds. They were bad. I’ll bet those are standard issue for that era of camp.
    There was also frisbee in the field down the road, where Keith got caught up in the excitement and broke or at least bent his toe at an unnatural angle…
    Ahhh, the memories!
    Thanks for adding to the conversation, Jeff!

  6. Oh, what a great storyteller you are. I felt like I was there the whole time! I want to see that VW bus! I love the 4th. We have a great fireworks show that we can see from our front yard, and we always cook out and make homemade ice cream (which is sometimes the only time that happens in a year!). Love love love the memories you shared and also made me remember.

    • Thank you, Amy. I am delighted you came to visit. Your 4th sounds utterly delightful! Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. As you point out, these special times don’t last forever, but the precious memories live on. As my parents age, our traditions have taken on new meaning. Mom’s homemade icecream and potato salad have never tasted better. We are so blessed that she is still able to make these specialties for us!

    • Those treats our parents make are so special! I’m glad that your mom is still able to be part of your celebrations. Thanks for coming by, Connie!

  8. Oh, I loved this! I was right there with your family! Bickering. Playing. Eating. Making memories! There is nothing more wonderful than making, and then remembering special times with family! thank you so much for sharing yours!

    • Diane, your old family stories are so wonderful, and you do such a great job sharing them. I am glad you enjoyed mine!

  9. It was so much fun for me to vicariously enjoy your childhood 4th of July memories…Thank you, Kim, for sharing them with us :) Hope you had a great 4th of July…we had a neighborhood block party, then hubby’s sister and husband over for dinner.

    • A block party sounds like loads of fun, Dolly. I have always wanted to do that. Living up a dirt road in a very rural area precludes that, unfortunately. Glad you have family close by to share the holiday with. Thanks so much for sharing!

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