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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.