Thursday, June 21, 2012
Sum- Sum- Summertime!
I love summer. I am a sun-worshipper, a tree-hugger, a fresh fruit-fanatic, a poolside-lounger, a morning walker, and a voracious novel-reader.
Only I never have time for any of that anymore...except for morning walks and lots of fresh fruit.
As soon as the weather started hinting of summer, I began experiencing brief but intense flashbacks to the summers of my youth, memories that brought with them both pleasure and pain---pleasure because those summers were luxuriously long and lovely, and pain because those summers seem to be lost to me forever.
Like many good, responsible adults, I am trapped at my desk with my wrists handcuffed to my computer (or so it feels that way!) for a number of hours every day. When it's time to clock out, that is just the signal that one job is done and another begins, for then I move on to the demands of my home, my family, the church, my yard, errands, and all the other miscellaneous mundane tasks that grown-ups do. Even when I decide I'll actually sit down and watch a movie in the evening, I'll haul out the ironing board and iron while I watch to justify two hours of inactivity. Most of the time, I don't mind...in fact, I prefer staying busy. But come summer I begin to long for something...a feeling that I vaguely remember. It defines summer for me, and every year I wish I could recapture it.
I don't know about you, but summer isn't just a season to me, it is a total-body experience. I feel summer, taste summer, smell summer, hear summer, see summer...even sixth-sense summer, if there is such a thing!
The summers of my teenage years were spent in Oregon where summer is hot and dry for a good 2-1/2 months straight (despite Oregon's reputation for rain, which occurs the other 9-1/2 months of the year!). I used to live in the country, up on Chehalem Mountain, and I was surrounded by strawberry fields and vineyards and orchards, which were both my playground and my workplace. For seven long years of my life, I spent every summer working in the strawberry fields. Yes, it was hard physical work and I came home sweaty and very dirty every day, but all my friends worked there too, so it was quite the social scene...if you could call a dozen dirty kids in stained jeans, tattered t-shirts, ponytails, no make-up and berry-stained fingers at 6:30 a.m. a social scene! But I have some pretty great memories of "lock and rock" (locking people inside the outhouse and then rocking it!), bagged lunches in the cool shade of the forest trees that bordered the hot fields, making up "hoeing" songs to serenade the weeds, berry fights, picking races, popcicle prizes, bus rides from field to field where the bus driver never made you sit straight and still like on the school bus, running through the cool water spraying from the irrigation pipes, zipping across dirt roads on an ATV before they were outlawed, hanging out with friends who came to visit when business was slow at the U-pick stand, taking care of the baby goat and rabbit who were part of the petting zoo at the farm, flirting with the shirtless boys who loaded the heavy crates of berries onto the trucks, and the berry-picking picnic at the end of the season where we'd play baseball and eat watermelon (everyone was tired of strawberries!).
But summer wasn't only about berries...once out of the field (and out of the shower!), real summer began! If I was at home, I'd throw a blanket on the grass, bring out my music and magazines, soak my hair in lemon juice, slather my skin in Hawaiian Tropic coconut oil (without any sunscreen!) and suntan until the sun lost its heat. Better yet was at a good friend's house (two of them had pools!). We'd have a beautiful cycle of tan-turn-tan, cool off in the pool, tan-turn-tan, cool off in the pool, while we talked about boys and criticized the models in Seventeen magazine. There were trips to the beach and to the mountains, floating on a raft on the local reservoir (my first car accident was on our way to Hagg Lake...I remember climbing out of the dented car still holding my beach towel), there were fireworks and festivals, horseback riding, camping trips, rodeos, road trips, even Disneyland once, family barbeques, activities with a huge group of friends, shopping with girlfriends, romantic dates (at least we thought they were romantic at the age of 17!), and the grand finale of summer camp. But honestly, all these years later what I long for most is the quiet afternoons to myself when I would have a really great novel, some really great sun and trees, a comfy spot to lie or sit, and a bowlful of fresh-from-the-tree cherries to nibble and a glass of iced suntea to sip. That was bliss.
I was a voracious reader when I was young, easily polishing off 400-page novels in a week (I read the epic novel, "Roots," while on a camping trip the summer I turned 12). I got in trouble at school for reading too much (I used to put my book inside my larger textbook so I could keep reading!). My friends would hide their books before I came to their houses because I'd get caught up in one and forget my friend was even there. My mother would have to call me at the top of her lungs for the third or fourth time because I couldn't hear when lost in another time and place in the story. I often read a book a day and began reading adult novels and classics when I was still in elementary school. My biggest disappointment was that I easily got carsick, so I had to waste all that travel time looking out the window instead of reading. But even that cloud had a silver lining, because as I looked out the window on long road trips, I'd take in the scenery and make up stories in my head as we drove...incorporating the countryside, the little towns, the big cities, and the people I observed into my story.
I read all the way up until my early 20's. I still kept reading when I got married. I still kept reading when I worked full-time (during lunches and train rides!). But I finally stopped reading when I had kids. Suddenly, there was only time for babies. The only books I read during those years were board books, nursery rhymes and my Bible. Then the kids went to school and I read with them all the books they were assigned to read in school so I could be informed of what they were reading and help them understand the books. And I read to the kids every night at bedtime...many of my favorite childhood classics as well as new novels to experience together. But the only time I got to read a novel for myself (and by myself) was on summer vacation. Before we left, we'd head to the library so the kids and I could check out a few books for the trip, and I'd also borrow a highly recommended book or two from a friend. Then we'd arrive in Oregon at my mom's house. There was nothing like that first free afternoon: My mom would have already filled the inflatable pool (pretty big for an inflatable!) and set up the lounge chairs, so all I'd have to do is grab my beach towel and a bowl of blueberries and a one of those freezable mugs of iced suntea, slather on the Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil, and read in the sun while the kids splashed in the pool and Jeff napped in the shade.
And this is where my story becomes sad. We've only had one vacation in the last five years, and on that one vacation I actually had to work while we traveled. So it's been six long years since I lounged in a chair in the sun with a good book. I think that's why I've been pining so for the last few weeks. And I think I'm going to rememdy that today. When my work shift is done tonight, I'm taking one of the 8 books I've got waiting on my shelf (4 of them started but never finished!) and I'm heading outside. It's the longest night of the year tonight and a balmy 78 degrees. I have fresh cherries from the farmer's market, a pitcher of tea, and a beautiful backyard full of trees. I'm going to make tonight the official start of summer...by reading, just like I've done since I was a little kid.