The Adult As a Child In Summer

Tomorrow is the first official day of summer, and yesterday happened to be the first muggy, hot day of this year. So all of what summer is is on my mind and in my senses. Summer is actually my least favorite season, mostly because of how uncomfortable it gets here in Chicago then. But this has not always been the case; as children, my brother and various boy cousins and I spent every summer vacation at my grandparents’ farm in rural Tennessee, which was always a completely magical experience.

I’m sure my childhood on that farm accounts for at least a good portion of my love for and abiding interest in animals, gardening, and the natural world altogether. And as a child, even the hot weather of the south was not a hardship on my system in the unpleasant way it is now. There was no air conditioning or swimming pool to cool us down. I do remember going out in a small yard to the side of the house in our bathing suits when the rain would come after an especially hot day, and we were even allowed to get a bar of soap and pass it around, washing up then and there rather than having to line up for all our respective baths later on that night.

Another thing we did to cool down late in the day, but still quite a while before supper was slice up and eat a watermelon out on the back porch, or else make homemade peach ice cream with fresh fruit and cream and eggs, taking turns turning the crank on the ice cream maker. As an adult I’ve had a chance to taste that same ice cream, made the same way, and it was still the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. On that same back porch, a few days a week we were all eager to help my grandmother doing the laundry on her ringer washing machine, and then i would hang with her all the wet clothes out on the line to dry. Early in the morning of most of July, my grandmother would make hot, fresh jam from all the berries we picked, and we’d eat it over biscuits with fresh butter to our hearts’ content.

On the front porch of that rather small, three bedroom house, we’d spend long afternoons shelling peas or beans or doing something to vegetables while telling stories and learning songs with both my grandparents. I guess some of my favorite memories of summers, then, are of being up at night, in the living room, already smelling of soap and in our pajamas. We’d put on little talent shows for my grandparents, and then soon after crawl into our beds where we could see outside through the open windows moonlight shining on the smokehouse or a porch, in the garden or out in the pasture where the cows usually were. Every one of these nights began with lightening bugs twinkling all around us, and finally, the music of crickets chirping as we fell to sleep.

So on occassions like tonight, in a big city when it’s hot but I haven’t yet started using the air conditioner, I do think about the things that once made summer actually my favorite season of all. The way my grandmother would stop whatever she was doing, any time of the day, and make us teacakes I can only remember the taste of in a dream. And when I’d wake up real early in the morning to help with chores, I remember taking a brief rest in the porch swing before washing for breakfast; the bob whites would be calling, there’d be dew sparkling on the grass and flowers, and the sounds of pots and spoons and dishes coming from the kitchen window as if they were travelling as slow as the day was long.

© Nell Hunt   June 20, 2009

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