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 to me is on my mind and in my senses, despite my dread of the hot and humid weather ahead for the next twelve weeks or so.  Summer is my least favorite season because of how uncomfortable it gets here in Chicago and most of the midwest.  But a distain and intolerance for such weather has not always been the case for me.  As a girl, my brother and various boy cousins and I spent part of every long, childhood summer at my grandparents’ farm in rural Tennessee, which was without exception an experience of magic in each otherwise seeming dull and sometimes difficult rest of the year.     

I’m sure my childhood summers in the country account for a good portion of my love for and abiding interest in animals, gardening, and the natural world altogether.  As a child,  hot weather was not a hardship on my system in the unpleasant way it is now.  There was no air conditioning in the fifties and sixties south, and no public swimming pool to cool us down.  I  remember going out into the small yard that faced the very small road at the longest side of  my grandparents’ house in swimming trunks and bathing suit when the rain would come down hard after an especially hot day, and we were allowed to run and get a bar of soap and pass it around, lathering up and letting the rain rinse us off, laughing and squeeling and whooping, which also meant not having to line up for all our respective baths later on that night.  Up until I was nine or ten, though a toilet and modern plumbing had been installed in the bathroom, us kids were not at all reluctant to use the outhouse still standing out in the back of the house, not far from the smokehouse, and pumphouse, all three tiny buildings made of the same rough, splintered grey wood and somehow appealing to children as relics of what we called “olden days.”  It was somehow, for most of us, not at all an unwelcome adventure to make a trip to the outhouse, and we enjoyed playing just outside, or within, the other miniature houses in the back. 

Another thing we did to cool down in the middle of a long afternoon,  still some time before supper, was slice and eat a watermelon out on the large back porch, or on special occassions make homemade ice cream with fresh peaches,  cream and eggs, all eagerly sharing in the job of turning the crank on the ice cream maker.  As an adult, maybe fifteen years ago by now, I’ve tasted this same ice cream, made the same way, and it remains the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. On that same back porch, a few days a week, even the boys loved to get in on the novelty action of my grandmother doing the laundry with her ringer washing machine.  I had, myself, a special facination with the bluing always added to a load of white clothes washing, and commandeered the act of dropping the dark blue cube into the water.  Every summer without fail, at least one of the boys, or I, would get part of his or her hand, even up to the arm, caught between the rollers the clothes were fed into to be wrung, though no one was ever seriously injured.  There would be some initial crying, with attendant group excitement and adult sympathy for a while, and then the chore of laundry being done for us all would again commence.  For some reason, the boys would disappear when it came time to hang the laundry on the great lengths of clothesline we’d put up in the back yard, and my grandmother and I would see to hanging with wood clothespins the fragrant wet clothes all along the lines to dry.   In the morning in her kitchen during most of July, my grandmother made a large pot of fresh jam from all the wild blackberries we had all spent several hours of several days picking in an overgrown wall of indistinguishable patches across the road in the woods, and we’d eat the jam piping hot over just-baked biscuits with fresh butter — all our mothers used margerine at home — filling up on seconds and thirds to our hearts’ content.     

On the smaller front porch, with its porch swing, of that small, four-bedroom house — the one our mothers or fathers grew up in as ten siblings somehow — we’d spend long hours shelling peas or beans while telling and listening to stories with both our grandparents, my grandfather sitting on the lowest edge rolling his cigarettes with Prince Albert tobacco once in a while and smoking. I guess some of my favorite memories of summer, too, are of being up at night, assembled in the living room, smelling of soap and in our summer, cotton pajamas.  Together as a troop of beloved grandchildren we’d put on talent shows for our always delighted and highly amused grandparents, performing solo or in concert, and then soon after, the fanfare over, we’d crawl into all the beds in the house where, once the lights were out, you could see out through the screens of fully open windows the moonlight shining on the smokehouse or back porch, on the larger, single fruit trees and then out over to and across the eerie looking pasture in the distance, depending on which room you were sleeping in.  Every one of these summer nights began with lightening bugs twinkling all around us as we outside until just before dark, and each night ended, finally, with the lull of crickets chirping, and bullfrogs croaking, as we fell to sleep.     

So on occassions like tonight, in this big city, sounds of the el train two blocks over in the distance and quietened street traffic down below, when it’s hot but I haven’t yet installed the air conditioner and shut these sounds I’ve grown used to out, I do find my mind wandering towards these days that once made summer the best season of all.  I hold so close in my heart the way my grandmother would stop whatever she was doing, any time of day, putting away her scissors if she was sewing, or coming in from the garden and removing her hat, and making us in no time a batch of her teacakes I can only remember the taste and texture of in a dream.  When I’d wake sometimes on my mornings there, imagining seven AM was early and determined to really help my grandmother with chores — when she’d been up and working since four — I remember after mopping the kitchen floor or some other minor task, taking a brief rest to myself on the porch swing before washing for breakfast.  The Bob Whites would be calling, there’d be dew still sparkling on the grass and flowers, and then the sounds of pots and dishes coming from the kitchen window across the bed of shrub behind the swing, as if these reminders of activity were travelling in air as slow as the day was long.     

© Nell Hunt   June 20, 2009

There should now be a link on my other blogs to “nell’s writing,” which is also the writing part of dark age days.

To go to the writing blog of dark age days please click on this link and find whatever I’m working on there. Eventually, I want to share a writing blog with other writers – fiction, personal essays, or memoir. That could be another part of this current blog, the “writing” part of dark age days, and the main part could be for progressive politics, and another part could be for art, photography, philosophy. I dunno …. Ideas?

Bear with me as I learn html and how to interconnect things so as to find and participate in a community of  folk who write about many things. Thanks for your interest.

Many thanks to my lovely friend J0n, who helps me figure out how to post and work things here – one day it will make sense to me!.