As I walked home tonight I realised just how much I missed a real summer. Not in the sense that the weather has been a let down, but in the things I used to do as a kid. I stopped for a moment, the street light shaded by an overgrown laurel, and looked up at the stars. For the first time in years I could make out Orion's Belt and the Dipper. And childhood came rushing back to me...
...Summer was waking up in the morning and pulling something on, carelessly -as children do- because all I wanted to do was be outside. The sweet smelling damp from the night clinging to the soft blades of green grass, tickling my bare feet. When afternoon came the water hose came out, filling up the long outgrown stiff plastic kiddy pool my parents had purchased from the drug store just up the block. Sunlight dappled our faces as it streamed into the teal pool, glimmering turquoise in the shadows.
I miss the taste of water drunk right out of the hose, cold against my cheek, metallic against my tongue. I miss the smell of water drying on my skin, bits of grass and pine needles stuck to my feet and legs, musty and comforting all at the same time. I miss the sound of the wind dancing in the towering pines that flanked the little outbuilding of a garage.
Summer changed and became lounging in the house shaped canvas tent that smelled faintly of tar and gunpowder. Lying on camp cots, reading while the breeze whispered through the tent flap, just cool enough to read a book. Summer became dozing under the apple trees, listening to cherries fall to the ground - "plop" - and setting traps for moles. Stab a cherry on the end of a thin branch, bury it in a tamped down mole hill, and lie on the grass - still as statues - trying not to breathe, waiting for the branch to wiggle. Holding our breath as the tiniest and pinkest of noses snuffled away the cool brown earth to wriggle at the sun. Summer was running around in our Vietnam-era army fatigues after dark, with Storm trooper rifles that glowed red. Hiding between the shadows of the fence and the neighbor's floodlight. Sneaking up to the back deck where my father stood sentinel with a huge flashlight, sweeping the back yard like a guard tower in a war movie.
Summer was the scent of citronella candles burning on the back deck, late into the night as we played round after round of 21 or Gin Rummy, moths bumbling into the large deck lamp like drunkards. Summer was turning off all the lights and lying on the deck watching the International Space Station pass over head, a tiny bright star that moved too rapidly to be a satellite, growing brighter and then dimming as it moved across the heavens.
Summer was endless glasses of homemade lemonade. Syrup made from boiling lemon rinds and sugar water. Eating strawberries dipped into sour cream and then into brown sugar, the red skins bursting inside my mouth, juice running down my chin. Melons, honey dew, cantaloupe, watermelon, chilled in the refrigerator and eaten with greedy enthusiasm.
Summer was endless play time, staying up late because it was often too hot to sleep. Reading books until the sun warmed you into slumber. Slathering skin with sunscreen from a bottle with a little girl on the front, getting her panties pulled off by an overly enthusiastic puppy. Soaking endlessly in kiddie pools, mud, utterly sodden grass and loving absolutely every second.
When I say I miss summer, this is what I miss. The unencumbered summers of my youth. The entire days dedicated to splashing at the beach. The fading golden light that made pure magic of each day.
I do not smell the pine trees any more. I smell cigarettes and fumes from endless cars. I do not splash in a yard, despite being too big for the kiddie pool. I take a shower at the end of a long sweaty day to wash the stink of the city off my skin. I squint at the stars, so faded and dim against the light from the street, apartments, and bars, trying to see the velvet indigo of the sky above. I miss how it was almost always cool at night and the frogs came out to sing me to sleep. Now there are only sirens and raucous college students to lull me into slumber. My hobbit heart misses the Shire.
I know there will a yard someday. I know there will be another house. I know I will have a place where I am the grown up who slices up the watermelon and makes lemonade. Who walks up the little hill to the drug store to lug back the stiff plastic kiddie pool to splash around in. Who slathers tender baby skin with sunscreen and splashes shrieking children with the hose. Until then I hold the memories of childhood close, remembering their textures and sounds and smells. Looking forward to the future.