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Radiant

By Mary Summerbell

Summer. My favorite season. Maybe because I was born into it – June sixth, just a tiny bit before the official Summer Solstice – close enough for me to consider myself a summer baby. A summer child. A summer person. My first look at life, my first experiences of smell, taste, sound and touch, all my very first impressions of Earth, were in summer. I have always identified more with this season than any other, with my name – Summerbell – as absolute evidence that divine destiny meant for me to be a summer soul.

And this summer has been a special one for me. Not because of anything that happened or anything I did. No special events or trips. Just another summer on the surface. If anything, with deaths and other changes, this summer has been sadder, more subdued for me than most other summers. And yet something about this season touched me very deeply this year in a very personal way. It’s hard to explain, hard to describe what set this particular summer apart from any other.

The weather has been especially beautiful. It seems to me we haven’t had this kind of summer weather since I was a kid. It brought me back to my childhood, reminded me of green rubber hoses spewing cool water, sprayed from under someone’s thumb, and backyard sprinklers and plastic swimming pools and going to the local beach. Of roller skating on smooth – and bumpy – stretches of sidewalk, my skate key swinging on a string on my neck as I breezed around the neighborhood streets.

I could ride a bike, but not far. There were rules about that, and I wasn’t clever enough to lie, as I later found out my siblings did. So I walked – to summer school, for art and sewing classes – to the library, where I could travel as far as I pleased to places real and imaginary – to the  playground for supervised games and activities, like weaving potholders of bright-colored, stretchy fabric loops on a square metal loom, or making lariat keychains of skinny, shiny plastic strips. I climbed the monkey bars, rode the little metal merry-go-round, played on the teeter-totter and in the sandbox, slid down the slide and swung high on the swings.

I remember bug bites and skinned knees and slicing my big toe open on a piece of broken pop bottle. Fireflies and fireworks. Picnics and Kool-Aid. And Popsicles, for a nickel – so many tempting flavors that it was too hard to pick when I had to split one with a sibling. The neighborhood grocer would break them in half, so we could each have the flavor we wanted – and come back another day, or later the same day, for the other halves. It obviously annoyed his wife.

I remember the chime of the ice-cream truck, going up and down the streets, and all the kids begging money from parents for a treat. Once in a while mine said, “Yes.” And once or twice each summer my parents would pile all of us kids in the car and drive across town to the A&W Root Beer stand and we could each get a regular size root beer or a medium ice-cream cone. It was a big deal. Almost always someone spilled, with bumping of kids and mugs and cones in the cramped back seat. There was cursing and crying and wiping up the mess with lots of paper napkins. But it was a very special treat. A highlight of every summer.

Of course there were suffering hot days – and nights. I remember sweating in the heat, working or playing – mowing lawns with a push mower to earn my own money, and playing in the street with the neighbor kids – games like Spud, and Red Light Green Light, and Hide and Seek, until it got too dark to see each other. And then we’d go in the house and go to sleep in just our undies, on sweat-soaked sheets with fans hopelessly blowing hot air around our upstairs bedrooms.

As I write this, I laugh. And cry. Earlier in my life I would have just cried. And that, to me, is part of the magic of this summer. A shift in perception. Perhaps from resentment to appreciation. A subtle yet intensely deep change in the undercurrent of who I am.

I still feel sad, sometimes – angry, afraid, depressed. I still feel the melancholy I have always felt that seems to be part of my nature. I still feel overwhelmed a lot by life. But at the same time I am also thankful – for whatever is positive in the moment, whatever is uplifting, for whatever I am learning in the moment, even if I don’t know what it is. Strange as it may be, even in darkness and sadness and uncertainty I am now thankful for the darkness and the sadness and the uncertainty. I am thankful for all of who I am and all that my life is and has been and will be.

This summer something changed. Colors were brighter, flowers more alluring, bees buzzier. There’s a scent I still keep smelling – indoors and out, at many places – that I have never smelled before. It is sweet, sharp, green, earthy, comforting. I don’t know what it is or where it’s coming from, but it’s different than other scents I know. Also, even as my physical senses diminish with age, some kind of sense in me is keener than ever. There is something shining behind things – through them? – that I didn’t see or realize as much before now. And there’s something lighter and brighter inside me, regardless of any darkness or sadness in me or in the world. It’s like the last rays of sunlight that, for fleeting moments, intensify just before the sun goes down, giving everything a little extra final glow.

Perhaps the light was here all along, and I just wasn’t aware of it. Maybe this summer wasn’t much different from any other summer, except in my perception of it. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I enjoyed this summer like no other in a long time. I enjoyed it like a kid – walking barefoot in the dewy grass, picking and giving away raspberries, making and eating and sharing my notorious “weed salad.” I napped away rainy afternoons, smelled  and picked herbs and flowers, sat outside to think and read, ate ice cream, gathered with friends, drove home with a hot summer night’s breeze blowing on my sweaty hair and neck. I felt my feet in a backyard sandbox and remembered the beaches I’ve been to. I saw in those around me the child inside playfully peeking out. I watched my grandsons as they looked with wonder and delight at buds and flowers and weeds and bugs and rocks, and wondered how they see these things and what they were feeling. This is their childhood. What will their memories be?

I hope we’ll have our traditional Indian Summer this year in Wisconsin, extending the pleasure of the very, very last days of summer – the final, radiant, lingering, loving touch before the chilly beauty of Autumn. If not, then this will be enough to keep these old bones warm with memories through deepest Winter into Spring. And for that I am grateful. Thank you, Mother Nature. Thank you, Father Time, for this great summer of my life.

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