A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

I don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night Yankees games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of Converse All-Stars. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded 11-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of Wiffle ball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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5 Comments

Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

5 responses to “A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

  1. jillralph

    Funny you should write about this … On our way home from vacation this past weekend, my husband and I were sharing your exact sentiments with our children. How summer began Memorial Day weekend and ended Labor Day weekend. We shared days that were filled with nothing but curiosity from breakfast to late night. Sadly, the children being raised today…for a variety of reasons…don’t have the luxury of imagination and freedom from structure. I’m not sure I see a change to what was and it may die with our generation.

  2. This brings back so many memories. I have to admit, I got caught up having my kids in camps and days planned out (everyone else was doing the same and you felt like Loser Parent if you didn’t have them involved in everything available!) Thankfully, I realized how ridiculous it was – cut everything and let them just be. And it was the best decision I could have made for our family.

  3. My childhood summers were much like yours. Looking back, I remember them fondly, but remember being incredibly bored by August and couldn’t wait for school to start in September.

    My son had a childhood more like ours. He used his imagination and played outside with friends and built forts, etc.. My daughter’s childhood is much different. Hers is more structured and seems to rely on us entertaining her. I keep trying to change that, but it seems to be the norm these days. I think we’re both looking forward to the start of school again.

  4. Jennifer

    Love it! This is exactly how I remember summer as a kid. I must say my kids I think are a good mix of then and now. We spend most of our days swimming and the evening are spent outside enjoying every last bit of light. On the nights we get together with friends there is always some sort of game of tag or hide and go seek going on. Of course now the ring of someone’s cell phone gives them away.

  5. You bring back such great memories of my own childhood. We didn’t have our own pool but we had a pool across the street. I think I lived there for most of the summer when I was a teenager (when I wasn’t working). My own children had the benefit of a cottage without electricity and they did exactly what you did as a child. I remember numerous forts and rafts that were built, long hikes taken in the woods and riding bikes on trails to unknown places and discovering deserted beaches and open fields full of berries and apple trees. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.