Let’s go to Trago…

(It’s pronounced “TRAY-go”)

Trago is my happy place.

Trago Lake is a small lake in my hometown.  It’s actually only about 1/4 mile from my parent’s house in the peaceful middle of nowhere, southern Illinois. It’s a two hour drive from our home in St. Louis. The lake is located within a gated community.  I use the term “gated community” loosely. I mean, it’s a livestock gate on a gravel road, but a gate with a padlock nonetheless.  The community is a cluster of cabins surrounding the serene lake.  There’s a sandy beach and swimming area, a playground, and a whole bunch of cabins.  Some of the cabins are campers. Most of the cabins are owned by residents of the surrounding county. It’s rural, and rustic, and I absolutely love it there.

I found a cabin for sale early in Chris’ and my marriage and he reluctantly bought it for me.  He was unsure of the investment at first, because the place needed a lot of work.  At the time, the roof was about to fall in, and there was rain coming straight down the walls. It hadn’t been used in a long time and we weren’t sure what we were getting into. Chris was also concerned that the family wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped we would. But it wasn’t terribly expensive, and he saw the potential the place had.  We bought it and immediately had the roof replaced (shout out to Jay Eskew), my BIL Scott Burmeister helped me remodel the inside, and Ryan Strong has been helping me landscape, including installing my giant cock.

Joe Cocker & Sisters

This is my beautiful, glorious, magnificent 7’ tall metal rooster.  His name is Joe Cocker. There is a metal shop on our drive from St Louis to Trago, and the kids always exclaimed as we drove past “There’s the big metal chicken!  We should get one!” After years of admiring him from afar, he came to roost with us this year as a “Happy Trago Cabin Anniversary” present to Chris, who was not quite as thrilled as I’d hoped he would be. However, the man feeds off of my happiness, so by default, Joe Cocker brings him joy.  By the first night of our new mascot, Chris had warmed up to him.

We have a bunk room that sleeps 6 kids in the back of the cabin, a cozy living room with a futon that Chris and I share, a simple bathroom, and an eat-in kitchen with a super cool expandable table I scored at IKEA that can seat all of us if we open it up.  Outside is a covered porch overlooking the lake and dock, a shelter with picnic tables, and a fire pit surrounded by swings. There is also a shed where we store our kayaks, fishing gear and other fun stuff.

Kayaks on the lake

For the past few summers we have been making the 100-mile drive back and forth to our beloved Trago cabin (aka Redneck Riviera).  The kids love it there.  We have hammocks, slingshots, nerf guns, and all the fun stuff that camping has to offer.  I love to camp, especially when it’s in a house with heat, A/C, and running water.

Chris filling the holding tank

Running water is the trickiest part of the experience.  We don’t have a water supply, so everyone with a place out there has to haul in their own water.  It isn’t too much of an inconvenience, just part of the experience of staying here.  We pull a transfer tank to the water treatment plant about two miles from here, fill it up, and then use a pump to move the water from the transport tank into our holding tank.  One load of water lasts us about two weekends here, depending on how many people are along with us.  A load of water costs $1 and takes about an hour to haul and pump.

Myself and “Norma”, our guitar


This weekend was a beautiful time to be here.  The leaves have started turning green, so it’s no longer dreary and depressing in the midwest. It was chilly, so we had to wear hoodies, but the rain stayed away and it was perfect campfire weather.  Yesterday was particularly rough for me.  I was really feeling the absence of Alydia. She loves it here. This is also her happy place. She always looked forward to coming here and bringing friends there to experience it with her.  My best friend Zehra and her daughter Reagan joined us here this weekend, as well as my niece Alexis, and Alydia should have been the third musketeer.  Those girls have grown up together since the day they were born and it’s hard to see them without Lyddi.

Everything reminds me of her.  I found artwork that she made while she was here – a drawing of “Mimi”, which is the nickname all the kids in my family call me. The guitar that she used to love playing on the dock. Seeing the baby cow running through a field nearby – she would have loved that! The geese fighting on the water. The owls hooting at night. The coyotes in the distance. The late night scary walks with Hermione to the gate. 

Mom & Lyddi at the cabin

Chris and I are getting ready to pack up the cabin and head back to the city today. It has been a wonderful weekend and I cannot wait to come back.  We’re filling the water tank and cleaning so it will be ready to welcome us the next time we come here.  But before I leave town, I need to make a stop at Elmwood Cemetery to visit my baby’s dogwood tree and tell her all about the weekend we had here.  I wonder if she’s in heaven playing music with Joe Cocker, maybe she told him about our chicken.

Here is a video from last summer, Alydia playing some Johnny Cash on the dock

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