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Six, Two, One, SUMMER!

I’ve always loved June 21, the day you can officially call summer, and my grandmother “Gammy’s” birthday, too. Most years after school let out, we’d pile in our yellow Ford country squire wagon and head down to Vero Beach, Fla., where Gammy and Gampete (Marie and Scranton “Scrip” to their friends) lived. We usually stayed over her birthday, so it was particularly fun. Gammy was summer’s carefree spirit, reliable optimism and nourishing energy rolled into one. My mom’s parents left New England years ago for Florida, stumbling on Vero, a lovely beach town at the start of the tropics, where they’d happily stay.

gammy
Before Vero, our beach was Madison, CT. Gammy’s holding my cousin Anne and me, flanked by my mom and her twin, Uncle Pete.

Gammy was a delight. She put you in a summer mood even when it rained, which being Florida, was most afternoons. We’d play jacks on the floor and nibble brownies, two kinds, with nuts for the grownups and smooth for us. They were always cold, perfectly cut, and neatly stacked in floral tins between sheets of wax paper. Beach days we’d walk to Gammy’s swimming hole, where she would extend her hand so I could brave the patch of seaweed underfoot, and she’d steady us as our slight bodies broke the waves crashing to shore. To reach this place you had to step way down and then back up to a sandbar, which we could find surfacing at low tide. The swimming hole felt like ours alone, as the endless summer did.

Gampete, in contrast, was prone to being grumpy. He’d played a round of golf that day maybe, and I’ll bet his back hurt, or his score was lousy. Or both. In from the beach, he was the gatekeeper. You had to stop at the door, clutching the molding for support, so he could inspect the bottoms of your feet. Tar that washed up on the beach would usually end up there, and Gampete was ready with a mineral spirits soaked paper towel. The house’s beautiful white carpet once again was spared.

Today was the longest day of the year, and I noticed little bits of summer seeping in all day and yesterday too, more than I can remember even from multiple summers combined. I made some of them happen, but others just showed up, feeding off the summery vibe. How I got this concentration of summer for two days straight, and spilling into a third, I’ll never know. You don’t question a happy convergence of events like this. Yesterday in particular was summer at its finest. If you asked me what I did, I could have truthfully responded: Planted flowers with children. Ate cupcakes outside. Watered plants. Laughed.

mojito
May I present Summer in a glass: light rum, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, club soda, muddled mint and a big sprig stirrer. Shaken and strained over ice. Cheers!

Later I walked my dog and ended up in a newsy catch up with a good friend along the way. Back home, I cut mint from a pot on my deck and made mojitos, which I’d been craving for weeks. (Note: If you’re going to muddle mint, go easy or it’ll tear, and you’ll end up with a wonky green bits in your teeth. And if you’re going to try and grow mint, don’t skimp on the water, as I’ve usually done. This year is my first producing a tall deep green bushy plant, and I have water to thank. That and sun of course, too.) Instead of back inside for A/C and TV, I took my glass outside to the hammock where I sat and sipped, feet grounded to the earth, and I looked up to bats circling the sky. At the edge of the yard, I noticed a few rabbits had stepped onto this idyllic summer set, nibbling clover as they tracked my position.

pesto
Ina Garten’s pesto. Superb, like everything she makes.

As the sky went dark, I went inside, and on the way cut basil from the other planter (see previous note on water which also applies to basil, or anything you want to grow strong, yourself included). In minutes I made  a big batch of pesto for supper and to share, this time adding walnuts, which cut the bite of the basil and garlic with its complex buttery texture. I drained hot spaghetti and coated it with pesto, and washed it down with diluted mojito remnants, tasting summer.

With the longest day on my hands the next day, I ended up driving to South Carolina to pick up my son and his friends from their week-long university science program. Three hours of open road and sparkling lakes out the window shifted my mind into neutral. Puffy child-drawn clouds floating ahead reminded me of summers past and gave the atmosphere an innocence it desperately needed, far away from disputes over air space, missiles, global warming, and Washington.

IMG_4176
I recommend traveling to another state on the longest day of the year — you experience the day differently, and instead of feeling like a spectator, your own path stretches out and moves in time with the day’s.

Out of habit, I turned on the radio only to hear POTUS defending another one of his idiotic moves or comments, and in an instant, it was radio off, back to music and summer scenery. You can just choose to turn it off, I’ve discovered.

Tonight, our town held its annual summer solstice beach party, drawing kids carrying pails and shovels, pulling red wagons and pushing dump trucks and diggers to the square where blocked streets are piled with (literally) tons of beach sand. Every year, parents and their children flock to Decatur’s Beach Party, where couples sway under palm trees to beach music holding frozen margaritas, or play on the ground sifting sand through their fingers while their kids do the same, and move and mold sand. The best summer block party you can imagine delivers happy exhausted kids at bedtime, and offers free sandbox sand for the taking the next day.

beach party
Beach Party 2019, Decatur, Ga.

I keep wondering how I can dial up summer’s brightness to shine louder than the day’s usual sobering news, and I’ve found it’s quite simple. Turn off your tv, your radio, your negative distraction and go to your kitchen or outside and find or make a new summer memory. I know you’ve got one. Is it spitting watermelon seeds, or stubbing your toes in a neighborhood pool where some nice mom patched you up with a Band-Aid, squirting Bactine on the wound? Or catching lightning bugs in pickle jars with perforated lids, holes your parents made with their split wood handled ice pick? Or maybe walking on your gravel driveway re-callousing your feet all over again, or on a prickly lawn in bare feet to get to your neighbor’s trampoline. Do you remember the smell of earth under your fingernails as you dug for worms in your yard? Maybe you didn’t catch any fish that trip, but still, you came prepared. Did you used to loll under ceiling fans slowly turning on hot sticky Georgia nights?

It’s now the 22nd and I’m still up, not yet ready to let go of this day. I know the ones ahead are already shortening, and I still haven’t been to a pool. I did stop at a lemonade stand the other day, however, and the boy who sold me a $1 glass reported $60 for his day’s earnings! A lot has changed yet so much hasn’t. The lemonade was better than I remember, but the beads of sweat forming on his face from a day at it, were exactly what I remember from my own years ago. There’s really no excuse to not stop and drink the lemonade.

Sitting here in the AC, hints of winter are blowing across my barely tanned legs, and this house’s thick plaster walls have drowned out the bugs’ song outside. Like that tube of toothpaste you refuse to discard before reaching for another, the one you flatten and roll, and repeat flattening and rolling until you get it all out, after these last few summery days, I don’t want to waste one bit of what’s left. Summer’s a lovely cheap date, maybe one of your best.

zinnia
Reliable zinnias return from last year’s seeds. They’re the best cut flowers or just leave them alone and watch how tall they get.

 

 

 

Parenting

Sonny Summer

sunIt’s here! June 1st, the (unofficial) start of summer. Days are getting lazier and longer, and we’re supposed to feel lighter. It’s as carefree as a season can deliver.

Decatur seniors graduated yesterday, and school is officially out, but over here, it’s still in session. My rising senior has a 3000-word paper due and three remaining days to complete the draft. That junior year rigor he signed up for hasn’t backed down one iota. Exhausted, he’s got miles to go before he sleeps. It’s quite a thing — IB Diploma, playing on a Varsity soccer team, club team, too — yet he’s shown up, stepped up, and exhibited a poise I can’t say I could have mustered. And he pulled off a B in French, an A actually, since it’s weighted.

My other son, the New Yorker, decided to stay put. He landed a job in early May in a café commuting on the $400 Schwinn he bought for $60 from a guy on the street. Gotta be stolen. They say living in New York is hard, but they haven’t said much about the finding the place to live part. Guess I’ll give it a whirl.

You could call me a planner despite my typically late scheduling. My friend Sherron says I always land on my feet, and she’s seen it all, the tight spots and deadlines I nearly blow past. This spur-of-the-moment gene has trickled down the line it seems, down to my firstborn.

College let out May 21 and he had to vacate the dorm by 8am the next day. Items left would be trashed. Period. Weeks leading up to this cutoff, we talked about where he could live working the summer there. He’d rent an apt with friends in the fall, but for now needed short-term housing. Our quick texts and occasional FaceTime calls were rushed; he was studying for finals, eating dinner, on the train with spotty coverage, it was always something. Even before settling on a June 1 spot, he still had nine days in May to cover. He needed to sublet an apartment, stay with friends for a while, something. More delayed answers to my texts and a phone call or two later, I got some info. He’d be staying with a friend in Forrest Hills. End of May covered. On to June…

Conflicting reports of roommate(s) joining him in June somewhere or not joining him at all made it difficult to budget or plan. I soon learned he’d have a roommate and they’d find a place. Great, they can split the rent. No, scratch that, just in… he and his girlfriend and his roommate would be staying in NYU’s dorms — flexible cheaper summer housing. A few more conversations firmed up the plans. He’d already started the NYU housing process, but we needed to pay the non-refundable $500 deposit. It was 10pm the night before Mother’s Day, and I’d hoped to wake up impossibly refreshed, with the dewy skin I wore my first Mother’s Day, not the 55-year-old bags under her eyes variety. I knew no amount of sleep would actually deliver this, but I’d wanted to try, yet we needed this application completed and paid, so I dove into NYU’s summer housing site. Much like the Joy of Cooking which requires you to leave a recipe to flip through other pages backward and forward to locate other recipes you need — a sauce, marinade, dry rub, etc. — this site was no better. I hopped here and there, and also had to set up a group with my son as leader to ensure his roommate choice would be duly noted and granted. A few hours later at 1am, I was done. He was in NYU and summer in NYC would begin.

The next night he told me the NYU plan was off. What had changed since Mother’s Day eve to Sunday night? He said his girlfriend’s family discovered hidden pricing making the NYU stay far costlier than anyone bargained for, so with one person out of the game, it was game over. She was making plans to go home. Seems everyone had gotten the NYU memo and was moving on, but I had to reshuffle it all a few times. Whaaa? We’re back to square one? The next day I was on the phone to NYU requesting a refund, which by some stroke of luck, we should be receiving.

The Forrest Hills stay still had its expiration date, and we still had 28 June NYC nights to cover. The new plan was my son + a roommate in an Airbnb, close to his job on Madison Ave. He kept assuring me it would all work out, but with what seemed to be few if any search engines running up there what with school and work, I started mine six states away. I texted him Airbnb options and, like Goldilocks, none seemed just right: one was too expensive, too far, too small, not private enough (ads touting “Living room futon for two”), or the dates didn’t work. I pressed him on his roommate’s budget only to learn there was none. His roommate was saving money over the summer crashing at friends’ places until school resumed. Brand new news. I cleared all filters and started a clean search.

Meanwhile he needed to fill an ongoing prescription but couldn’t find the two prescription sheets he felt sure he packed. Or did he? I asked him to scour his stuff which was stuffed in a Forrest Hills basement room and no luck. Wait! He thought about it more and said his girlfriend had packed them for him, but where exactly was anyone’s guess. I pressed and he did another search (I’m calling it cursory) and nothing. I told him if his girlfriend said she packed them, then she did. Why was I believing his girlfriend I’d never met over my son? Because, she sounds organized, she sews, has a place to stay for summer (home) and seemed methodical, not frazzled when she packed them for him. A clear head pitching in. Said prescription never turned up, but I’m not convinced every stone has been turned over.

 The other challenge was finding storage in this expensive city to house his non-clothing items like microwave, toaster oven, plates, etc. After some back and forth, he realized his girlfriend’s storage space had plenty of room, so he arranged to move some things there.

I found an Airbnb north of the city and I pressed the owner if my son could see it and I put them in touch. It’s 100 blocks or so from his work but is sunny and clean, and his 6”2’+ frame would have a double bed (vs the bunk bed, single beds and futons in living room scenarios I’d previously seen). The woman host I texted was nice and had a sweet friendly cat living there, too. Seemed like a no brainer to me but, like a game show with contestants debating if they should take the money or spin again, Ben wanted to spin ago. We could find something cheaper in Astoria. Mom, you just don’t know, I do. Let me handle it. Still not willing to let go, I searched Airbnbs in Astoria. Not the deal I was expecting and always a catch: wrong dates, zero privacy, or one place said they’d fine you if you had a guest visit at all, like even an hour visit in the living room. Another mentioned a camera in the living room where you’d be sleeping, though the lens wasn’t exactly focused on your bed, its peripheral vision was. The north Harlem spot with the cat never looked so good, so we took it.

The next day we were texting, and I learned his job on Madison that paid well and he liked and cycled to was no more. They said they didn’t realize he’d be away from New York in  July (which he told them about up front) and couldn’t afford to keep him, so that was it.

A friend in the city has an industrial sewing machine so he can continue making garments and building his portfolio, and he hopes to get accepted to the menswear program his junior year. He has an eye for design and a nose for business. He’s continuing with his online clothing resale business, and his Airbnb host has a photo shoot she wants help with, so work is coming.

Last Wednesday was moving day. Three Uber rides full of stuff and a final backpack-on-his-back bike ride to his new place, and he’s all done. But not without a crazy story. He sent me this text that evening after I asked him if he was all moved in:

Went w my backpack and bike from queens to 7th and 53rd on the e. Then I hopped off to transfer on the D uptown but every train that came through for like 20 min was full. Then I left station to try and bike and basically got lost and poured on in Central Park then I made my way to the 1 train. Where this crackhead person bumps into my bike and starts talking and goes on and on and finally I tell him to shut up and then he follows me on the train and continues to just talk talk talk and I’m ignoring him and then other ppl get involved.. it was a crowded  train but everyone was basically telling him to shut up and then I finally got off at 137th st and he’s still on the train lol and then I walk back and continue to get poured on meanwhile my laptop and speaker and other electronic stuff is in my backpack but I tried everything and it all works thankfully.

I couldn’t imagine myself at 19 navigating that city, but he’s doing it, and doing it with aplomb. Now with a roof over his head and a cat (hopefully) perched on his bed, the boy it turns out is going to be just fine. They both are. On to summer!