Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer In My Mind

Those of you who know me know that one of the things I am least fond of is the season of summer.  The high levels of humidity added to the endless heat spells make me wish for Fall and beyond with an even greater longing every year.  But I must admit there are a few things about summer that I really do enjoy.

Summer brings back fond memories for me as a kid because I remember waiting on the front steps of the home I grew up in on Summer Street in Pekin for my mom to come home.  Even on those front steps I could smell the aroma of grandma's home cooked supper.  There was always a meat and potato dish usually accompanied by fresh sweet corn, green beans, or any other freshly made dish from the easily acquired fresh produce from the farms in the area. 

Mom worked for a local insurance company and for years got off at 4:30 Monday through Friday.  Her arrival at home between 4:40 and 4:45 was very predictable.  Occasionally, she would have an errand to run after work and that would push back her arrival time somewhat, but normally, she arrived on time.  Why was I so anxious to have her home? 

Every evening during the summer months, with the arrival of my mother, my grandmother, grandfather, mom and I would sit down to grandma's carefully prepared supper.  That time of the day holds some of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood.  Grandpa would always inquire after my mom's day.  Grandma spent her time bouncing from the supper table to the counter serving everyone in the room.  The meal started with the usual grace before meals and then we dug in.  I think I was almost always the first one done because of what was ahead for the evening.

Weather permitting, every summer weekday evening, once supper was finished, the dishes washed and enough time had passed, my mother and I would don our swim suits, grab a towel, and head for the local pool.  For about two and a half hours each evening I swam like a fish.  I dove off the boards that were in the pool, a fixture banned from most public pools these days because of the potential dangers they represented.  I loved swimming the width of the pool  while under water.  I vividly remember the setting sun and the changing colors of the summer evening sky as day lazily rolled into night.  It was an idyllic time.

Then there are the sounds of summer that had a melody all their own.  Crickets chirping wildly as evening came on accompanied our nights on the front porch.  We had a screened in porch and so could sit in the cool of the evening (relatively cool!) bug free.  Grandpa sat in "his" chair at one end of the porch, cigar in hand puffing away while talking about the "old days" on the farm when he was a kid.  Grandma would soon join us and just sit and relax, enjoying what must have been her first break of the day.  Mom would also be there, sitting on the porch swing, slowly seining to and fro listening to my grandpa spin his yarns.  Night came softly in those days as lightning bugs danced across the lawn.  An occasional car would travel up the brick paved street making such a racket that I am sure these days would be banned by the EPA due to excessive noise.

But that was a sound in those days that brought comfort and security to a little boy's life.  I often return to those days in my memory to touch base with the simpler times of my life.  It was a time of family and, once in a while a neighbor would drop by to add to the flavor of the evening.  Neighbors were neighbors back then, not just someone who lived near you, but someone who was like a part of your family.  They watched out for you and you watched out for them.

The evening skies from that front porch dazzled my imagination.  Stars seemed to shine a little more brightly back then.  These were the days when all the world looked to the evening sky with increasing wonder because the Soviet Union and United States had just begun what was being called the space race.  Shortly after the launch of Sputnik in the fall of 1957, the neighborhood would gather on the darkened street corner, heads firmly aimed at the sky, in an attempt to see that little point of light the Russians had only recently launched soar over our little Midwestern town.  It only took a few short minutes to cross from one horizon to another, but it filled everyone with sheer excitement and, in many cases fear.  After all, it was the Russians who had first reached space successfully.

Those summer evenings long ago passed into my personal history.  But they are the fond part of the season that I find mainly objectionable.  We didn't go camping.  We didn't swim in rivers and lakes.  Our simple pleasures came in the local pool, and warm summer nights spent as a family in the familiar and comforting aroma of my grandpa's cigar.  Laughter and memories punctuated those evenings with the sweetness of life that a child should experience.  They were marvelous times now receding into the past with ever increasing speed, but they shall always live for me in my memory.  And while we had no air conditioning and most of those warm summer nights were spent trying to find the coolest part of the sheet so you could sleep reasonably well, that, somehow, seems unimportant.

What is important that those summers on Summer Street gave me the life of a family and its memories to comfort me and bolster me as I journey along in life.  I'll never forget the sweet scent of grandpa's old cigar which today I might actually find offensive!  I'll never forget the ride to the pool with my mother and, often, a neighbor kid or two along for the fun.  And I will certainly never forget my grandmother and her home cooked suppers and the gentleness and tenderness that went into their preparation.  When I remember summer in this context, the season isn't so bad after all!