July 30, 2003
I remember when summer used to last an eternity. Gone was school and structure. Instead, life was all about whatever suited our fancy at the moment. I would sleep in late, or get up early just to race through the dewy grass. Hot days were for playing under the trees—swinging or designing bike trails or “rooms” for a house out of leaves raked into “walls.” Cooler days were for walking for miles in the pasture to have a picnic, just to go someplace different, I guess. Rainy days were for jigsaw puzzles or games or making a mad dash to the little house we had for a playhouse, smuggling in some kittens to dress up for “babies.” The long evenings were for endless hours of biking or tossing a Frisbee or our unique version of softball. Nights were for staying up late and chasing toads and frogs and playing shadow tag under the yard light or lying in the soft grass gazing at the stars and telling ghost stories and ending the day with chocolate syrup on ice cream before bed.
And there was the company that only came in the summer. I am sure they never stayed more than a week, but, to us kids, it seemed like forever. We had so little company otherwise, we kids were in heaven. According to Mom, we would pretty much disappear for days on end. (Showing up for meals, of course!) Occasionally some “new friends” would come through—in other words, friends of Mom and Dad with kids we hadn’t met yet. We learned early on that the gym set (a souped-up swing set that was the best investment Mom and Dad ever made) was a guaranteed icebreaker, no matter how shy we all were. Oh, we were the envy of most of our company! We had acres and acres to run on, a real house for a playhouse (in fact, two playhouses, when the old sauna wasn’t being used as a chicken coop) with real (discarded) furniture, real (non-running) cars to “drive,” awesome dirt piles, oodles of kittens to cuddle, haystacks and farm equipment to climb on, and parents who figured kids were perfectly washable and didn’t care how dirty we got. (Mom still claims we are so healthy because by the time we grew up, we were immune to germs!)
Summers changed as I got into my later teens. I spent most of my time reading and writing and biking—still always biking!—although I was always up for a game or two of something with the younger kids, even though I lost interest more quickly, wanting to get back to my book or my writing. They didn’t seem to last as long as they had in years past, and I started to become aware of “wasting” time, feeling guilty for lounging and not making the most of the brief summer. I became less resentful of the “chore” of gardening taking away from my playtime, and even began to enjoy weeding the garden, taking it on as my personal responsibility. I never did learn to enjoy the processing and canning, but I accepted it as part of my share of the work. Still, there was plenty of time for all my hobbies, biking till sunset, working jigsaw puzzles till the wee hours of the morning. I never held a summer job during my teen years. We lived too far out of town, and, really, there was plenty to do to keep up with our good-sized family. I understood well the connection between hard work and putting food on the table and clothes on our bodies.
Then I had my rude awakening—a full-time job. “Summer” was instantly reduced to two weeks, when I was on vacation. Because you just don’t work or go to school in summer. You just don’t. The weather might be warmer, but it’s really just like any other time of the year. “Summer” as the calendar defined it, was merely a period of warmer weather when I got to shed my annoying, heavy jacket. Basically meaningless. Other than my vacation and my August birthday, I no longer even took note of summer.
Then I moved back to North Dakota and started college, and because that was seasonal, my summers became, if not true summer, at least different once more. I took classes the rest of the year, and worked three part-time jobs during the summer. But just the change in routine made it summer once more, even though now it flew by instead of lasting forever.
My idyll ended, and I went back to working full-time, year round. But, this time, I decided I would have summer. I guess you could almost say I “keep” summer, like a holiday. I celebrate it. I plant flowers, and baby them, and make a point to notice and enjoy them when they bloom. I still work through most of the summer, but if I happen to be home on a beautiful evening, I go outside and sit in my swing and read or work on crafts. When I leave work at night, I savor the soft, warm night air. Sometimes I will sit on my steps for a few minutes before crawling off to bed. And I make a point to take off as much time as I can spare and just hang out and live an unstructured life the way I did when I was a teenager.
Then, like all holidays, it passes by, usually too quickly, and yet, there is a satisfaction in getting back to the “real world.” I think I have come full circle from my teen years. Then, I felt it was a waste to be doing nothing. Now, I realize that sometimes it’s a waste to be busy. Sometimes we need to make a point to “keep” summer.