Elizabeth, whose blog you can check out over at The Occidental Idiot, gave me a challenge a couple of days ago to write an entry answering the question “What is the American summer?”
In purely technical terms, the American summer is the summer season of the Northern hemisphere, which officially starts June 21st this year, and ends September 22nd. But I assume that I’m supposed to give my own, subjective view of what makes an American summer special. Or something like that. So I offer that at its most basic level, ‘summer’ is no school, swimming outdoors, outdoor grilling and picnics, big movies, and…extra time spent with friends and family. Let’s take it point by point, and make it American.
Summer is the 4th of July, with parades, festivals and fireworks. I grew up in a town that prohibited fireworks, but in exchange for citizens honoring that, the city put on a huge, 45 minute long fireworks show either at one of the high schools or at a park. So whoever is in town for the 4th drives over to the site as the sky darkens, parks the car, and either sits on the hood/roof or sets up a picnic blanket on a patch of grass. Then you just lie back and wait for the show to start. It’s never guaranteed to be sunny in early July in the Pacific Northwest, though, so I have many memories of running for cover or not going out at all too.
Summer is when school lets out. When instead of a classroom, you head to the pool or to camp or to a vacation Bible school. When the family takes trips, either to visit family or on educational adventures. When camping happens during the week, instead of only on weekends. When bug bites and nettle stings and scratches from blackberry thorns are the price of warm, magical evenings spent running through meadows, supping on clover honey and salmonberry delights. Summer is unlimited reading time, when it’s okay to check out as many titles as they let you from the public libraries, lie in a cool spot somewhere and enter new and fantastic worlds through books.
Summer is the local outdoor pool open every day of the week, and taking a picnic basket down so that you don’t have to go home between swim practice, tennis practice, playing pickle ball, and free swim. It’s road-tripping to the seaside with friends and inadvertently getting sunburned and almost-ticketed for having an illegal beverage on a public beach. It’s scouting for seashells at low tide and making movies or taking silly pictures about life’s simple adventures. And sometimes it’s about having a miserable time that becomes an indelible memory and a story that will last a lifetime.
Summer is a cookout on a friend’s porch. It’s eating too many hotdogs and burgers to count, and helping my mother make potato salad that I hate to eat. It’s fixing iced tea in gargantuan containers so that my family doesn’t drain it all in one sitting. It’s going to a baseball game and eating cotton candy and cheering for the home team. It’s caramel apples, French fry bricks, elephant ears and other carnival food. It’s listening to country music in the car with the windows down, drinking Coke and grinning from ear to ear.
Summer is going to the theater to see big-budget movies and action films. Anticipating each and every Friday night for new releases, scrambling to buy tickets online lest the showing prove to be sold out. It’s coming out of a show energized, giddy, excited and entranced by the magic of movie-making. It’s make believe. It’s leaving a dark theater with friends on a warm night, and looking up into the stars in the summer sky.
But best of all, summer is sitting out on the porch on a warm evening, talking to loved ones, having a conversation that in the winter months would require the intimacy of a car. Somehow the night feels familiar, closed-in and yet infinite, with possibilities zipping around and knocking into each other like lightening bugs. It’s catching fleeting glimpses of bats flying by on their insect-eating mission. And when it’s at it’s best, summer is hearing the gentle lap of waves on the lakeshore while the moon reflects the depths, and sitting out on the dock, contemplating the enormity of the universe in night sky.