As grandparents, Dick and Loni Harris believe a little adventure goes a long way toward building lifelong memories. That’s why they like to round up their six grandchildren several times a year and hit the road, turning their travel trailer and Chevy SUV into what’s become known as the “Nana Express.”
The ground rules are simple: Get outside, have fun, explore, get dirty, and leave the hand-held video games at home.
Last year, the Harris crew wound up camping at Paradise Cove RV Resort right along the shore of Lake Texoma, a sprawling 89,000-acre lake that straddles the border of Texas and Oklahoma. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s, it’s a haven for water sports, as well as excellent bass and crappie fishing.
Recreation opportunities here seem endless. The lake features two wildlife refuges, two state parks, 54 Corps of Engineers-managed parks, 26 resorts, hundreds of campgrounds and a smattering of golf courses. From power boating and sailing to windsurfing, the water is a magnet for activity.
For the Harris clan, it proved fertile ground for old-fashioned family fun.
Loni Harris: “My girlfriend’s kids treat me like a second mother, and they’re the management staff for Paradise Cove. They kept saying, ‘You’ve got to check this place out.’ Well, we’re avid campers, so last summer we grabbed the grandkids and went!
“We have a total of six grandkids and we love traveling with them – just the chance to watch their little personalities develop. With us, the trips are all about old-fashioned fun. We cook outside, we play outside, go on adventures and walks. We’ll even load up and do a little day-tripping.
“At Paradise Cove, we actually camped in a place where there was a beachfront, which was awesome. We try to get as close to the water as we can wherever we go, because kids and water just seem to go together. There were a lot of trees and a boat ramp not too far from where the trailer was, as well as a playground area.
“One night we brought out a projector and put up a white sheet out by the travel trailer and watched a movie – sort of a make-shift drive-in. People would walk by and we invited them to sit down and join us – I love that about RVing – it’s something you just don’t get at a Hilton Hotel. That night we had roasted marshmallows and bundled up in blankets, and the kids just had a blast.
“Sometimes we’ll go into town to find a thrift store or garage sale and make a game out of finding something we need for the trailer, like five wooden spoons or a white sheet to show the movie on – it becomes something like a treasure hunt. Just little things, nothing of great importance.
“I think there is a real value in our time with them. It’s bonding. I’ve overheard them talking to other kids about ‘Oh, we get to do this.’ It warms my heart to hear it.
“With us, it’s all about fun. We keep a map at my house and mark where they’ve been. We watch the grandkids on New Year’s Eve, and that’s when we make a tent under the dining room table, get the map out and say, ‘Where do you want to go next.’ Then we vote on it.
“They don’t shy away from going anywhere with us. If they even hear us talking about an upcoming trip, they’re like, ‘When are you picking us up?’
“Of course, we definitely do things our own way. Everyone gets to choose and help prepare a meal – which can be very interesting – and everyone has a chore they’re responsible for.
“We don’t allow Game Boy or the Internet, and the TV isn’t turned on until after bath time. When they come to our house, we don’t have that stuff. We’re outside. Our goal is adventure, and the kids just love it.
“We have walkie-talkies, so I’ll stake out a perimeter and they get to go adventuring, pick up odd things and come back to tell us a story about it. It’s amazing what they bring back! I’ll never forget the time by oldest grandson, Christian, brought back this twig and was trying to tell me it was an old snake who had retired, hardened, and didn’t want to live like a snake anymore. My granddaughter Rebecca was going, ‘Are you sure?’
“After each trip, they make their own memory book. They write their own story as best they can, so they’ll always have something they can look back on.
“Camping is great with grandkids. They get to get dirty and no one cares. I really don’t. The first time we took Rebecca; she was like, ‘Oh! I’m dirty!’ I said, ‘So? You need to go and get much dirtier!’ And away they go.
“I was raised by my grandparents and we went camping just about every weekend. I loved it. It was time away, just to be a kid. So we try to do as much as we can away from all the city life that we can. We’ve taken them on long and short trips. We own a small farm, and sometimes we’ll just take them camping out there.
“You know, one time we were at a gas station with the kids and this guy looked at me saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re spending gas money like that; what do you think you’re doing?’
“I just looked at him and said, ‘I’m making memories.’”