By Nichole Ballard
One of Nichole's favorite things to do is feed the carp at the Theodosia Marina on Bull Shoals Lake. They grow huge and fat. Each is at least three feet long and as wide around as a cantaloupe.
Road trip for a family reunion
We left Columbia at 5 a.m. Coffee in hand, dog in the backseat, we started our journey to my mother’s house in Villa Ridge—a little town right outside of Washington. I was excited the days leading up to our trip. I hadn’t seen my grandparents since Christmas and I was taking my boyfriend to the source of my childhood for only the second time: the Lake.
Thursday morning we began our journey in a fog—literally and figuratively. White cotton sheets surrounded us, allowing only 10 feet or so of visibility. I really can’t imagine London beating Missouri out on the fog that morning. But then the sun rose, and as the sky colored as if it were a sun-kissed peach, the countryside peeked its head above the fog and my excitement rose with it. We still had an hour and a half to get to our first stop, Villa Ridge, where we would meet up with my sister. I hadn’t seen in her at least two years. From there we would pile into her new SUV and travel another four and a half hours to the teensy town of Protem.
My grandparents bought a little piece of land on the lakefront of Bull Shoals, right on the boarder of Missouri and Arkansas. I’ve been going there since before I was born. I learned to swim there, had my first black eye, hunted crawfish, and spied skunks from the camper. I named the trees that were bent at a funny angle “elbow trees” and hunted the shells washed up on the beach.
Each little road has it’s own name assigned by my childhood self: Deer Run, for the deer that graze and run across the road; Raccoon Road, for the family of raccoons I saw meandering down the rocky paths; Skunk Alley where the skunks always invaded the campsites at night. So many memories linger there in the sights, sounds, and smells of that little region of the Ozarks. This time I got to share it with my niece. Abby is three and even though she hasn’t seen me since she was one we became buddies immediately when I handed her the pink princess cell phone I bought her the day before. Apparently she called me yesterday to tell me about her shopping trip (she’s a mini-fashionista). I’m sure it was a compelling conversation.
Mile by seemingly endless mile the stress began to peel off and I could just sit back and watch. Playing with my niece, I watched this brief, passing moment of her childhood that would be stored in her memory as it was in mine so long ago. At night we built a campfire and my sister and I caught up on the years that had passed. We reminisced about learning to build a campfire: “You gotta blow on it!” we told my boyfriend, laughing at a few of his failed attempts.
The lake is beautiful with crystal clear blue water. My grandpa told me a story about how it used to be even more beautiful years ago. He said the water in the lake was clearer than it is now. I didn’t really believe it, but I listen to my grandpa. I come from a family of divers, so one day he decided to figure out how clear the water really was. He dropped his Zippo into the water and could see the glint of it sitting on the bottom. My uncle, using diving equipment, retrieved it and measured how far the Zippo had fallen: 40 feet. You could see 40 feet to the bottom of the lake! That's what Grandpa says anyway.
Unfortunately my vacation was a short one. On the way back home it gave me time to check out the billboards and everything that part of Missouri had to offer: Russell Stover’s Candies, the world’s largest gift shop, the record bass capital, the world’s largest rocking chair… wait. What? OK, that's a strange one. The ride was nice. The rolling pastures brought on a kind of peaceful lull that almost let me believe I was still on vacation. It was abruptly ended when I saw the blue and red lights flashing in my rear view mirror.
Minutes later, speeding ticket in hand, I was forced back into my life, but still happy to have experienced a true Missouri moment.