LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Though it feels like we have been for a month, we are now officially in the spell of summer, that special place where tomatoes taste like tomatoes, skin turns golden and you can hear kids splashing and squealing in pools. Though I’d say I’m more of a winter girl, I can definitely dive into the appeal of the season and I’ve been quietly enjoying these hot days while weeding in my garden. All the while, I’ve been thinking of the summers of my own childhood.
Before I turned 16, my mom had a pretty strict policy that summers were ours to enjoy and relax. We’d worked hard in school and lessons all year and wanted to give us our two months with as little responsibility as possible.
For my little brother Matthew and I, that meant sleeping in as late as possible and then descending to the basement to watch as much TV as possible. The house was hot in the summer, since we didn’t have air conditioning until I got older, but the basement was always blissfully cool. We’d sink into the couch, our eyelids still heavy from our long sleep, and Matthew would abscond the remote, forcing me to watch whatever he felt like. Though he was four years younger, I always gave into him, which is how I came to watch countless episodes of “This Old House” and “My Classic Car,” the handlebar mustache of host Dennis Gage always fascinating me.
By noon time, though, the TV had largely given way to soaps, which always seemed vaguely depressing, so we’d head upstairs for some breakfast and to figure out the rest of our day.
When we were very young, nearly every summer weekend was spent hauling our Corsair trailer to campgrounds around the province. We were talking about it with my mom recently and she admitted she probably loved that trailer more than any of us. She loved to get it stocked up for the weekend and then essentially play house the rest of the time, washing dishes in the miniature sink, transforming their bed back into the dining area every morning, sweeping the floor with her small broom.
For me, camping was great in two ways. One, we always spent our days swimming in whatever lake that was adjacent to the campground. In the morning, I’d pull my bathing suit off the yellow clothesline my dad had tied between two trees. It was always still a little damp and slightly painful to put on so I’d suck my stomach back to try to avoid contact. But soon we’d be at the lake and the sun would sparkle off the water. A lot of people think Canada never gets warm, but that’s not true in the prairies and I’d bask on the beach as long as I could stand it before walking into the wonderfully cool water.
Two, my dad would always let us chop wood for the fire that night. My mom was pretty nervous about that, but he watched us carefully and from the age of 4, Matthew was splitting kindling like a champ. Then we’d roast marshmallows over the fire and sink into a deep sleep, happy and secure in the knowledge that we’d get to do it all over again the next day.
When we got older, our one job in the summer was mowing the lawn, which took a few hours of riding on our orange Simplicity lawn mower. By the time I turned 14, I was pretty keen on earning some extra money and at $5 a mow, I mowed the lawn even when it didn’t really need it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t great at the actual mowing part and nicked quite a few tree trunks in my time. I was, however, great at singing to Salt ‘N Peppa while I mowed, my trusty Walkman clipped onto my shorts as I went up and down the acre of grass. I’d sing at full voice and probably surprised a few neighbors with my creative seat dancing.
Like our lawnmower suggested, the best part of summer memories is their simplicity. It didn’t take a lot to make us happy or entertained. I vividly remember one night when my best friend Kristin and I simply spent the entire evening playing badminton in the grass until it got dark. Other times it was just sitting around the bonfire in the back yard, our skin smelling of smoke and mosquito spray.
And as I weed in the garden, I realize it still doesn’t take much to keep me happy. Just a warm summer day and the time to enjoy it.