Summer never held any kind of heavy promise for me, because I never expected anything out of it. It just had to be. As long as I could get up in the morning and walk outside barefoot, it was all good. I never wore shoes. Even in the late afternoon, when the street had been scorched by the sun all day and your skin could blister on contact, I would hop from car shadow to tree shadow or run on tip-toe, letting out little yelps of pain all across the street, because I refused to wear shoes in the summer. Shoes were a formality. Summer was casual.
Maybe I love summer for all the memories it holds, because every May or June when the temperature starts to rise and you can really notice the length of the days, I get nostalgic for those hot summer nights and the freedom of summer days.
Summer was the church fair with its zeppoles and goldfish games and Ferris wheels. The balloon/dart game, where I won the Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror that’s still in my mother’s attic. The tilt-a-whirl thing, where I met Doug while sitting underneath the machinery, smoking a Marlboro and listening to the Doobie Brothers blast through the neighborhood. Walking home from the fair each night, clutching whatever stuffed animal I won, smelling like fried food and beer. When I got home, I could still hear Father M. on the microphone, exhorting the crowd to buy into the 50/50 as I crawled into bed.
Summer was Kick the Can, which usually turned into something else entirely, groups of us hiding in bushes and trees and backyard sheds. Later on we’d play SWAT instead, peering around from corners, pretending to shoot each other as if we were five and playing cowboys and Indians, not 16 year olds holding invisible guns, pressed against the wall.
Summer was getting sunburned at the beach, before we knew how bad the sun could be for you. Slathering ourselves in baby oil and cocoa butter and making sun reflectors out of tin foil. My friends’ faces and arms tanned a beautiful bronze while my arms withered, blistered, burned and peeled. I gave up on the sun after a while and spent my beach time under an umbrella, reading Judy Blume’s Wifey and listening to 99x on the little portable radio.
Summer was going upstate to Roscoe, NY for days or weeks at a time. Wearing sneakers into the lake because the bottom was a bed of mud and algae. Catching frogs and snakes and salamanders and then letting them go because my parents didn’t want to drag the things home with us. Making forts in the woods that served as a refuge, a place to go to get some shade and read Mad Magazines and Archie comics.
Summer was baseball, so much baseball. Sitting in the backyard with my mother, listening to games and learning how to keep a scorecard. Going to Shea Stadium in the early 80’s when the Braves came to town and the place was so empty, we had a section and a beer vendor all to ourselves. Dave Righetti’s no hitter and the Fourth of July game between the Mets and the Braves that didn’t end until four in the morning - we stayed out in the backyard, twenty of us at least, watching until it ended.
Summer was a party every July 4th, celebrating my grandfather’s birthday. The whole neighborhood would show up. Going up on the roof to watch the fireworks from Eisenhower Park. Lighting off our own fireworks and running outside the next morning to pick through the debris for any firecrackers that didn’t go off.
Summer was hanging out at the school yard night after night, the suffocating heat making us cranky. Lots of fights and dramatic break-ups. Being chased through yards and streets by Officer Goldberg. Hiding in the shed/clubhouse in someone’s yard, drinking stolen beer and smoking cigarettes and wishing we were old enough to go to clubs.
Summer was Italian ices, the kind you ate with a wooden spoon and had all the sugary goo on the bottom, so you dug around enough to turn the ice over and eat the sticky part first. Hamburgers that tasted like charcoal. Early morning walks to the candy store, one dollar enough to bring home a fistful of candy, enough to last the day and we’d eat the candy in between games of Marco Polo in the pool or hopscotch on the hot sidewalk. Pop Rocks and Pixie Stix and those little wax candies that looked like soda bottles and were filled with a medicinal tasting liquid that, back in the day, tasted like the best thing ever.
Summer was certain smells. Lilacs and fresh mowed grass. Rain sizzling on the hot street. Overheated cars that smell like baking syrup. Chlorine and pool liners. The smell of Fleer baseball cards and the powdery gum inside the wrapper. The salty air at the beach, hot dogs on the grill, cotton candy at the street fair.
Summer was the last days of August when you’ve had enough of the heat and what felt like freedom in June now turning into boredom. The lure of new spiral notebooks and a fresh pair of Keds and sharpened pencils, not to mention cooler air.
Summer was the freedom of being a kid. That’s what made the heat and humidity so tolerable. And maybe those things are less tolerable now, but they are still what I crave. The darkness of winter depresses me, it makes me want to spend my days in a cocoon. The cold, the gray, the way the sky always seems so heavy, like it’s about to sink under the weight of the season, it all feels so defeating. I need the warmth, I need the sun on my skin. I need to not wear a coat or gloves, I need to drive with the windows down, I need sunlight and flowers and a green landscape.