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Okoboji area is home to many memories

The beach is one of the many places to be when visiting the Iowa Great Lakes.

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- Since it's just a short 45-minute drive from Worthington to the Iowa Great Lakes area, Hubby Bryan and I frequently hop in our Jeep Wrangler and head there for an afternoon.

We might wander around the flea market venues that pop up on holiday weekends, stop for nachos (with lots of the homemade red sauce on the side) at The Taco House or a beer at the Barefoot Bar. Occasionally, we get tickets for a performance at the Okoboji Summer Theatre. But most times, we just tool around in the Jeep with the top down, taking in the atmosphere of the popular resort destination and marveling at all the boats out on the lakes.

Okoboji has always been a special place for me because it was where my grandparents, Harry and Alice Rickers, lived during the summer months. They had a modest house on Haywards Bay of West Lake Okoboji, and whenever we pulled into the long driveway, Grandpa and Grandma would be sitting in their lawn chairs, fly swatters in hand. They never sat on the lake side of the property, preferring to watch for the approach of prospective visitors rather than the boats on the lake. And no matter if they knew we were coming or not or what time of day we arrived, they were always in those same spots, waiting to greet whoever showed up.

When I was very young, we'd spend time on the dock, fishing with Grandpa or perhaps going for a swim. I have a faint memory of swimming in my underwear with my cousins one time when it was terribly hot and the bathing suits had been forgotten. Another time, I went running down the dock in my bare feet and got a huge splinter and had to endure while Grandma patiently removed it from my foot with a needle and tweezers.

Later, when Grandpa Harry was no longer able to fish and the dock didn't get put out, I recall looking for wild blackberries along the lakeshore, Grandma teaching me to make dandelion chains and, if it was rainy outside, reading the ancient comic books that were stored in a repurposed film barrel.

And there were always homemade cookies -- the gingersnaps were the best -- in the yellow tin in Grandma Alice's Okoboji kitchen.

On nights when my parents had tickets to the Okoboji Summer Theatre, they would leave me at the lake house for those few hours. Grandma and I would play rummy or Kings on the Corners while Grandpa dozed in his chair. (If I try really hard, I can conjure up the smell of his pipe tobacco, too.) I'd be asleep on the couch when Mom and Dad came back to pick me up.

Of course, with the proximity of the Iowa Great Lakes, I also have childhood memories of other attractions: a week spent at church camp; bruising my knees in the funhouse barrel at Arnolds Park Amusement Park; plays at the Boji Bantam Children's Theatre (named in a contest by Brother Marty); riding on the Queen excursion boat; and shopping at The Emporium with my mom.

But whenever I visit Okoboji now, I get most nostalgic for the days spent at the Haywards Bay house. Occasionally we will drive by the site, but no evidence of Grandma and Grandpa's house remains. Where a modest white-sided structure once stood, there is now a huge mansion. On the hill where I picked gooseberries with Grandma Alice, there is a multi-vehicle garage and guesthouse.

I prefer to close my eyes and picture Grandpa and Grandma in their lawn chairs at the top of the hill, awaiting our arrival and swatting at the flies.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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