Summer is childhood, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, I have the most vivid memory of one day in a summer when I was about six years old. The longest day. It seemed like it would never end.
My friends were playing at my house. We wore bathing suits and bare feet. Wrinkled beach towels baked dry in the sun. Bikes lay every which way. The hose snaked from the spigot out to an open area where we had run through the sprinkler earlier – the best kind of running-through sprinkler, where water sprayed straight up like a fountain and then tilted back and forth as if bowing to audiences on either side.
Sometimes we sprinted straight through the fingers of water, or we cartwheeled across the spray. Other times we darted sideways underneath the water’s curved arch to see if we could pass through without getting wet. Or we had fun trying to angle ourselves to catch the water’s arc in our mouths.
Now we sat in the shade of the covered cement porch that stretched across the front of my white brick house. Waiting. And waiting. How much longer will it be, we wondered. It’s supposed to arrive today, but when? Why can’t it just get here?
Sitting there in the shade, gazing down the street toward the entrance to my neighborhood, I tried to will that delivery truck to appear. The Toy House truck. Somehow I knew I sat at the edge of a dividing line. Before and after. The fun we used to have versus the bliss we would soon experience. Life without a pool and Heaven with one.
I’d picked it out myself. Round, plastic, about five feet in diameter. Blue with cartoon fishes all over it. And the best part: It had a built-in slide.
Time stood still that day, the sun high in the sky, as we waited for that truck. It’s frozen in my mind.
But not in reality.
Now decades have passed, and yesterday was the first day of summer at my house – for me, a high school teacher, and for my two kids – Carmen, 16, and Isaac, 12.
Yesterday we were out of sorts. The weather was gloomy and muggy, sometimes stormy, and we didn’t have anything to do. I think we were tired, or too used to having a daily schedule decided for us. We finished reorganizing Isaac’s bedroom, so he has the “man cave” he’s always dreamed of. But it didn’t feel like summer. Deadlines still loomed in my mind – of work I must get done, a grant proposal to write, reorganized classes I need to plan.
Today is different, however. Today is Tuesday. Today is the second day of summer.
Today it’s sunny and calm, and Isaac’s friends are over to play, and the windows are thrown open. Outside, I listen to the chatter and laughter of neighborhood kids who’ve gathered to fill water balloons and spray each other with the hose. Our cat saunters across the yard to see what’s up, gets wet, and bolts toward the safety of lush, green woods.
The play only stops for lunch. Then it’s on to something else: riding bikes and scooters, or playing basketball on the neighbors’ court, or venturing to the hideout – a clearing inside thick brush and trees next to the pond a half-mile behind our house.
I had a moment this morning when time again played games with my perception of reality.
It reminded me of another summer morning from my youth, a first day of summer from when I was Isaac’s age, about 12 years old…
It was the first Monday of freedom, and I reveled in sleeping late for the first time in a long while. I wandered downstairs around 10 a.m. to an empty house. Dad was gone at work. Older siblings were off doing who-knows-what. My younger brother still slept. But I wondered where Mom was. On a school day, she’d be hard at work in the morning, making breakfasts and packing lunches. Just a few mornings before, the kitchen had been a bustle of activity.
Now the only sound was the rustling of trees in the soft, June breeze. Curtains swayed next to open windows.
“Mom?” I called out.
“I’m out here,” I heard in the distance, and I knew immediately where to look.
I slid open the back glass door and stuck my head out to find Mom on her knees, digging her old hand trowel in the dark dirt of her bare garden, in loose capris, a sleeveless shirt, and gardening gloves. She liked to work in the morning shade, and she was late with planting. Running a home with six children didn’t leave much time for her pursuits, but she always found a way to plant and tend her beloved gardens.
“Do you want me to make you something for breakfast?” she asked, wiping a dirty glove across her forehead.
I stared at Mom in her favorite place, doing her favorite thing – knowing we’d soon be eating fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers, and enjoying her sweet zucchini bread. “No, thanks,” I said, and I experienced one of those moments.
I was aware right then that life was exquisite, and my senses became heightened to the sights, smells, and sounds around me. My mind's eye snapped a picture, and I'll keep that beautiful image forever. Mom in the garden. June morning. First day of summer. A day that seems like it will never end.
Then the Toy House truck comes around the corner. And that summer day stretches to eternity.