“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.” –Bern Williams
I am not a summer girl. I loved school and hated to see it end. Yes, a little rest and freedom from homework was welcome, and the night owl in me embraced the late nights and sleeping through the morning, but in general, I do not love summer. I hate the heat. I miss school. I get lonely and bored. I get antsy. I am not a swimmer, not a sunbather, not a traveler. The months creep past with slow, oppressive heat and the stale smell of sweat and lethargy invades the house.
But my disdain for the sunny months does not dim the nostalgic ache I feel for childhood summers. I hated them in the moment, but look back with longing for those small town heat waves.
Summers were hot. I remember lying still on the living room carpet, fighting my brothers for position in front of the big metal fan that stood on our hearth. At night, after darkness crept through the valley, we opened windows and amped up fans to blow what little cool air existed through the house. I remember the little brown fan, oscillating on my dresser, and the welcome touch of its breeze as it swayed side to side in the darkness. Mornings started with a welcome chill, clean bright sun stretching across the neighborhood. The moments were brief before the sun began its cruel work. We bathed in sunscreen before swimming, hid in the house during midday. Summer nights came slow, late, and never as strong as we hoped. The heat never left, but there is something magical about a starry night, barefoot on the warm cement and cool grass.
I remember splashing in our wading pool out on the cement. My brothers and I would fill it with cold water from the hose, sliding through the cool stream that penetrated the heated water from the day before. We wore swim masks and snorkels and would lay on our stomachs and “swim” circles around the pool, dragging our half-submerged bodies in circles to create a small current, and then let it push us as we sat still. I played dress up in old bridesmaid dresses with my friend, pretending we were brides and princesses, and we picked questionable berries from the shrubs to use for “real” food to play house. I watched Stick Stickley in my bedroom as I moved furniture and cleaned out drawers until I could no longer stand the afternoon sun baking my windows. We painted pictures and wrote poems and tried new recipes for the fair. It was frightening and thrilling to walk the halls and find our entries, some with ribbons, and find other names we recognized. I can smell the 4H livestock and feel the straw beneath my feet as cotton candy melted on my tongue.
As I grew older, summers changed. It meant summer school to get ahead and to get my driver’s permit. It was my first regular job, working at the city’s summer camp. That was when I got my first honest to goodness tan, spending afternoons watching kids swim in the public pool. We were mobile and employed, so we spent the summer free. We had barbecues and parties, spent late nights at the lake and in back yards. We walked the empty streets and played running charades at the elementary school.
Then, just like Harry Potter’s owl, letters came each August containing our school supply lists. I loved shopping for notebooks and pens, but secretly feared that first day back. It was so scary to see everyone for the first time, see new faces, see how everyone had changed. There was so much at stake when we returned, frantic phone calls comparing class lists and finding someone, anyone that was in our classes. There were new uniforms to iron and new outfits to assemble. There was so much anticipation in the end, such a far cry from the endless, lazy days before.
I remember shorts and swimsuits, popsicles and fireworks. When I think of summer my skin grows feverish and the heat hugs its way around my body. I can see my mom’s beautifully browned legs as I sat between them while she covered me in cool, creamy sun screen. I can smell the metallic water, dribbling from the hose, as we made a “safe” path of wet cement, between our chalk artwork, to walk barefoot on. The crickets and bicycle tires echo through the dark streets in the cool of late night, as the neighborhood comes to life. I hate the sweat and the loneliness and stagnation. I hate summer. And as I remember those moments, the summers of childhood, tears fill my tired eyes and I know without a doubt that I would give anything to return to those blistering days.
“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.” –Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams