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Goodbye to the Lake House on the Hill

Twenty-one years ago, in the summer of 1997, my paternal grandparents Bruce and Judy Hippensteel settled into their new lives atop Adams Lake in Wolcottville, Indiana. They were in their early-to-mid-60s. Now, twenty-two years have passed in their humble abode. But, there is also a passage of time that must be taken into consideration: the five plus years they have been migrating to Florida to escape the winter, which is fondly referred to as “snow birds.” Ever since they began spending the colder months in sunny Florida, the thought of making their mobile into their permanent home had been swirling around. When they first bought the house, they never had intentions of selling; but now, there is so much being put at stake by staking a ‘For Sale’ sign in the ethereal front yard with the barely-budding strawberry bushes and peonies.


Usually the process of boarding up the house for the winter wouldn’t really cross my mind much because it’s become a part of life. In more recent years, the timeline for Grandma and Grandpa has been to live in Indiana from April to roughly Halloween and then make the trek to their senior community mobile home (no, it’s not one on wheels). When I was in middle and high school, it was cool that they did this because it meant every spring break, we got to spend a vacation in a sunny location. But as the years passed, it became harder to make time to visit both the lakehouse and Florida. I started working every summer as a lifeguard, and then when I started college, my school breaks never aligned with my sister’s because, duh, we no longer attended the same school.


I thought this would be a good time to write this because my dad just completed a big trek of much of Gram and Gramps’ Indiana furniture to the mobile, so the move is starting to feel more cemented. In writing this, I hope I can reminisce a little and gain some closure. The house isn’t sold yet, but it will happen eventually.


Let me start this off by saying that I really believe anyone who’s been to the lake house has fallen in love. It’s just that type of place. For example, before I was even a figment of my parent’s imagination, my dad asked to borrow my grandpa’s pontoon boat and asked my mom to embark on the ride of life with him: marriage… although my grandpa did try to crash the moment by suggesting an impromptu cruise without knowing Dad was going to pop the question. Mom and Dad were married May 2, 1998, and one year, five days later, I entered the world! But one of the first places my parents went when they found out they were pregnant with me was, you guessed it: the lake! Then about thirteen months later, Zoe, my younger sister, was born and we began to spend a good amount of our formative years forming memories at the lake.


While Zoe and I loved being there with our own family, the deal was sweetened when our Indiana-dwelling cousinsAllyson and Leahwould come for visits as well. And even though it was more infrequent, we had our Texas cousinsJulian and Maria make the trip for a huge family reunion.


Our childhoods were spent building fairy houses out of shell fragments with motes made of lake “muck” as we called it. We carried around colorful pails that were half our size and waded through the lily pads on the lookout for painted turtles. Our family dogs also loved to romp down the dock. Most days consisted of a cacophony of childlike laughter and dog paws click-clacking on the metal piers, occasionally bookended with our parents getting doused with lake water as our dogs shook off. When we weren’t glued to the sea-wall, we were traversing the lake in the pontoon. We learned how to ski and gained a love of tubingcomplete with our own hand signals for SPEED UP, SLOW DOWN, and WHIP. There was also always a multitude of lake-living children our age, so we were never short of play partners. If we got tired from our aqua-centric activities, you could always count on a stellar meal from Grandma… food always tastes better at Grandma’s. Whether it was fresh crab cakes, ham and cheese sandwiches, her pink applesauce, or can’t-get-enough chocolate chip cookies, we found such joys in munching on our meals placed on brightly colored fish plates. Holidays at the Hippensteel lakehouse were even more magical and hold their own respective memories.


On 4th of Julys, it was posing for photos on the wood porch that stung your feet just a little bit but was instantly redeemed with a Bomb Pop that inevitably melted everywhere.


Thanksgivings were full of Grandma’s pumpkin pie and watching the parade on TV. Christmas was marked with the laughter of our parents and their gag gifts that are just now becoming funny as we look back. Spring and summer holidays always featured a kickass fireworks show, which was always better to see on the pontoon to experience the glasslike reflection in the water. But every day that we spent there felt like a special occasion.


As I mentioned earlier, time constraints made it harder for me to make it to the lakehouse, as this past summer marked the first time I’d been in almost THREE years. We drove Grandpa and Grandma back after Zoe’s graduation and returned in Grandma’s Ford Explorer because they were downsizing and only really needed one car for the two of them.


As I walked down the cement steps that felt all too familiar with my hand trailing slowly down the black metal railing, I was overcome with emotion. Every single room as I walked through it had some memory how could it not?


After walking through the front door, the first barrage of memories came from the mud room where we eagerly kicked our shoes off in pursuit of fun to be had during every visit. The study was next where Grandpa’s hearty mahogany desk sat. The kitchen was still wafting with incredible smells, and a fresh pie sat on the cooling rack. Same as always. Descending down into the “fish bowl” with wood paneling all the way around and windows to match, it was like I’d never left. There’s a big picture window that overlooks the kitchen, so if you woke up early enough on Saturday morning, you could watch the chaos of the kitchen on pancake day unfurl as you lay cocooned in a sleeping bag. This room always had the best view of the endless bird feedersand the house where my first lakehouse crush resided. The living room and the slider door to the porch was still the same, and I had to dry my eyes a few times overlooking the view. Sure, the deck furniture had been updated a little, but all the mornings I spent with a book or a journal for my thoughts remained the same. Heading downstairs was where I re-encountered our dress-up destination and the “kids” dining area where we could gossip and laugh, but still yell up into the wooden floor to the main level in case we had a sibling spat (probably about those fish plates again). So many of my favorite memories with Allyson and Leah come from just gabbing down there at the black wrought-iron table.


Out the screen door of the lower level was the precarious staircase to the waterfront. The pontoon now belongs to the neighbors, but we can still use it if we want. The wooden swing sat same as always, right behind the rock wall. The shed that used to hold all our pool floats, buoys, pails, and dog toys was still standing.


I traipsed along the pier, slowly. It was bittersweet to not be bounding down it like I usually doit felt more like I was trying to retrace all the good times I had spent there and lock them into place forever. I stood there for awhile and gazed up at the exterior of the house that I had grown so fond of in my close to twenty years of growing up in it. It felt almost surreal in that moment to be a 19-year-old on that pier and wanting so badly to pause and rewind time. But time doesn’t work like that.


When I said goodbye to my grandparents, there were tears as usual. As we started down the cobblestone hill that leads to and from the house, it was definitely symbolic of something: whether or not I want it to be true yet or not, my time at the lakehouse is drawing to a close. And with that comes sadness of course, but I am so proud of the fact that I can honestly say that much of who I am today has been taught to me through my time visiting the lake; that is something that a For Sale sign cannot make me forget because as the old saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” As long as I hold Adams Lake near and dear in my life, it will never truly be gone.

My name is Hannah Hippensteel, and I like to say I'm a Chicago city-slicker, but I'm actually from the 'burbs. I'm currently a senior at Winona State with a major in mass communication-journalism and a minor in sociology. Catch me enjoying all Winona has to offer: the bluffs, the incomparable Bloedow's Bakery, and not to mention, Minnesota boys. With a goal of working at Teen Vogue, Seventeen or Glamour magazine, I'm soaking up every opportunity to keep my finger on the pulse and share my personal voice!
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