My best childhood memories are from summer trips “down the ocean” in Maryland with my parents and brother, flying a kite on the breezy beach at sunset, full of deli sandwiches and smelling like Noxzema. (This was, at the time, the best solution for being burnt to a crisp by the afternoon sun, which kids were allowed to do in the early 80’s. And my dad is a pediatrician.)
Summer is when I learned to canoe on rapids, make hospital corners on a bed, and keep real feelings (and other secrets) from mean girls. Summer is when we went cross-country on a train and I learned that much of America was actually farmland. For miles and days. Who knew?
Summer is when I learned to file, back when patient files were made of paper, and when I also learned to save drowning people and tie them to a backboard, which I never, thankfully, had to do. I did, however, watch excellent swimmers slice through the water 100 times (exactly) in a row, my whistle ready for rope fouls, and that job most certainly beat filing.
I had all my short-lived dalliances as a teen in Summer. I could never be relied upon to stay in love for more than three months or so. (Consider this a formal apology, if any of you are reading this.) Thankfully, that’s something I outgrew by the time my lifeguard certification expired.
Not just about nostalgia for me, Summer is also when my life seems to shift in huge ways. I got married in Summer and then, a week later, moved overseas forever – EXACTLY 17 years ago today. I found (and eventually lost) my favorite job ever so far in the Summer. I lost an almost-baby in the Summer/. Strangely, none of my four kids were born in Summer – though they are represented by every single other season.
Summer is when I sent a husband off to war and very nearly didn’t get him back. Here’s a poem I wrote then:
At Swimming Lessons: A Prayer
To D in his APC in Lebanon
To me the sexiest man at the pool
as I wait here
for our (so small!) son – -
is the old guy with his trunks pulled way
up over his belly,
approaching his sagging, snowy-furry chest,
and is still not fat.
He is 75 at least and walks slowly, but straight,
and smiles at the lifeguard when he stops to chat.
To me he is a promise
that some men come home from war,
and go swim.
Let that be him.
For me, then, Summer is a strange mix of adrenaline and Zen.
I wrote this in Summer:
…Summer has no obligations. Only desire – - the low buzz of something you want to happen.
Summer takes us back to what is most basic, what we need to do to be truly whole. Summer is poetry without criticism.
So vacation isn’t what I’d call it. It’s a hovering, a plumbing of the depths. Sit in one place, but swing there…. Read More
…And also this:
…Every summer, right in the hot, soft belly of July/August, I’m hit with it in the head, like the skillet of an angry housewife: the urge to play Alan Jackson loud with the windows of my minivan rolled down (ain’t got no truck, just my luck), hang back on my porch at sundown, and go out drinking with the girls. You guessed that right, son – Redneck Fever….” Read More
Now I’m too busy to even think about what Summer means to me, since this Summer, my career seems to have taken a leap into the deep end of very busy, and some of my kids are around a good deal. Suburbia might be half-empty and moving like thick liquid, but that’s not my experience inside my little home office, where longing and plans have turned into determination and action, between which I am making people lunch.
My friend Vicki wrote this excellent post about Summer.
Please use the comments to tell me what summer means to YOU.
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