Rediscovering Summer

Summer: when parents push strollers through mellow evenings; laughter drifts across backyard fences; and multitudinous shades of geen shimmer in all directions.

Under the sun of summer, I’m less obsessed by what to fix for dinner and how well I slept. I stand taller, breathe easier and open more readily to spontaneity, idle chit-chat and stray dogs.

Yesterday while running errands, I stopped to visit with a friend well into her eighth decade. “I love this time of year; it makes me feel like a child again,” she said. “I used to spend my summers helping with chores mostly, but when I had time I studied anthills, watched butterflies, listened to bird song, scanned the night sky for fallings stars and walked barefoot on cool grass. There are few summers left to me now, and I like to spend them doing those same things.”

Later, remembering her words, I thought about my childhood excitement when the bus pulled away from our elementary school, and we chanted, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” School and winter were vanquished; summer would never end; and the rituals of a Lake Shore childhood could begin.

To pass a self-imposed test of endurance and nerve, my siblings and I walked barefooted outdoors in the heat of the day on all available surfaces — course gravel, asphalt, the sharp edges of salt grass, baked mud and the chicken run — hopping and complaining unthinkable. When not testing our bare-foot bravado, we timed each other to see who rode the bike to the end of the lane and back the fastest. When a treacherous rut toppled us mid-ride, we wore our scabbed knees and elbows as badges of honor.

We dove or belly-flopped into the chlorine-heavy water of Arrowhead Pool and swam as far as we could underwater, carefully marking one another’s progress. Riding bareback and double, we guided our horse along country lanes framed by sugar beets and alfalfa. Those who rode behind tried not to hold on to the rider in front, even during a gallop, but usually did. When eating watermelon, we saved the heart of our piece to eat last so we could mock those less disciplined whose last taste was gnawed rind.

We held buttercups under one another’s chins, checking to see who liked butter, and split the ends of dandelion stems with our tongues, sucking on them until they curled up like a slinky. We plucked petals from daisies to discover if he loved us or loved us not and made dolls from hollyhock blossoms, which, more often than not, we threw at each other.

When young, one day melted into another and summer seemed endless. But, inevitably, our childhood summers yielded to the responsibilities and restraints of adulthood. Then, as we busily accomplished stuff, June, July and August raced by like crazed carousel horses; and we didn’t notice.

Now, like my friend, retirement has restored summer to me. Once again, I have time to focus on the elusive smell of honeysuckle, the cool breath of an evening breeze, the sight of goldfinches jostling for position on a bird feeder and the voices of children riding their bicycles pell-mell to the pool.

My summer days will never again slow to the pace they kept during my childhood, but my pleasure in them has been renewed — and they are as delicious as ever.