A Nostalgic Commentary on Summer


The weather forecast is scattered thunderstorms for the next seven days. It’s been a rainy summer here in Vermont. We call it the new Seattle. The ferns and sumac are jungle big and almost every morning the mountain out our window disappears in mist and sheets of silver slanted rain fall on the Connecticut River. My husband sits in the gold chair and reads, and I pop in episodes of the LWord. In LA it’s sunny all the time. But of the glam lesbians, I really only like Shane and I find myself daydreaming of better times. Summers when the sun actually shined.

When I was small I would rather have had all my Barbie dolls scalped and cored than sit in school in Buster Browns learning about Williamsburg, so summer was when I really came alive: you got to wear just your underwear all the time, it was called a bathing suit, but that only meant you could be in public and swim in it, days consisted of salt water swims on Bloody Cove Beach, the clammy snap of bathingsuit elastics, towels hanging on the railing to dry, sand in the bottom of your bed, swimmers ear and stubbed toes, making villages out of hermit crabs in tidal pools, egg salad sandwiches, homemade Popsicles and picking strawberries in Bishop’s field, Italian ices at the yacht club, the bell of the Hoodsie truck, Riverside amusement park, jumping the waves at Watch Hill, glow-in-the-dark Frisbee in the street with your sister, sardines and hide-and-seek, making shadow puppets against the walls of canvas tents, lemonade with fresh mint, skinned knees, dandelion wishes, clover bouquets for your mother, tetherball and boys.

Well, boys came later, after the ten-speed bikes. The advent of boys happened around the time we sunbathed all day in Olivia’s backyard, flipping through Teen Beat and listening to Billy Joel on the transistor radio, slicked up in coconut oil, with tinfoil behind our heads so we’d burn better, riding double on James Bracken’s bike to the Chimney Circle footbridge, which you could safely jump off at high tide, my cousin Tommy would come east, and we’d stay up all night, lying on my grandmother’s roof, still hot with sun, watching the fireflies. That was when summer was pool hopping at midnight from one end of town to the other while the bugs committed hari kari in the zapper, high on Reunite wine your friend’s older boyfriend bought, kissing someone you barely knew from school, wishing you hadn’t made your hair orange with sun-in, smoking homegrown in the boathouse at the Commodores Ball, and taking the ferry to Block Island where you slept in rickety wooden hotels and Flock of Seagulls blared out beach radios, you wore cutoffs and winked at shirtless bleached blond boys.

In college summer was about Newport music festivals and following the Dead in VW vans with kegs in the back and psychedelic mushrooms in plastic sandwich bags, renting houses on Nantucket with your five best friends and cheating on your college boyfriend with the ex from high school, working the Hammonasset campground with Stacey, falling asleep from a hangover in the little booth, where you were supposed to be checking the cars for stickers.

When I moved to Vermont, summer was all about seeing how late you could stay up so you could wring the most out of the best season, Marlboro music fest and concerts at the Yellow Barn, riding no brakes down Pleasant Valley Road, the world’s finest swimming holes including Rock River where the gays are naked and the boys jump from cliffs, the West River spot beneath the Dummerston bridge with the hottest sunning rocks, on the steamiest days the culvert and for exercise Kilburn pond, dates are best at the Halifax gorge and kickass night swimming is north on route 30 across from the white house where the tag sale always is. The sun shines til ten and there are full moon hikes up Monadnock, white wine and mussels at Burdicks, post last call walks with lovers in Kipling’s gardens where you pray the cranky caretaker won’t wake up, bonfires at south pond, and eating late night snacks of the best wild blueberries you can find on Solar Hill. Summer was also Peter’s motorcycle when you weren’t broken up, the Green River Festival, margaritas on the Marina deck at dusk, tubing down from Townsend, the Western Ave farmers market on Saturday mornings, biking to Madame Sharis with your tent on your back to spend the night at the pond with the bullfrogs making sounds like plucked guitar strings.

This summer for ducks reminds me of the places where they don’t wait for the heat because it’s a curse and a problem. Tucson, for instance. All of June until the Saint John’s festival, they do rain dances in 108 degree heat and sit around the Virgin of Guadalupe praying for monsoon. You can tell monsoon is coming because it smells like just-burnt sage and greasewood and the sky goes electric green and then it just opens up and drops an ocean on the high desert. Great bolts of white lightening fork across the sky, skeletal and terrifying, and you have to yell to be heard because the rain drums like twelve Native American pow wows of seven tribes. Drama erupts, flash floods carry airstream trailers to Mexico and dry arroyos are wiped of succulents, coyotes and armadillos, houses cave in and electrical fires burn whole portions of the city. You wake up to wild boars and a pile of snakes in your yard and the sun beaming like a burning eye, and you wait for the whole thing to happen again. Rich people in the foothills build houses for the sole purpose of watching the lightening storms and in south Tucson people’s livelihoods get swamped in a single hour.

In Central America they have no summer. They sort of build their idea of summer around Carnivales, which happens in March, everyone goes to the beach to be hot. They drink tequila and dress up in fabulous sparkling peacock headdresses and then stand on the back of semi trucks driven by bored campesinos and wave to people. They spend their summer preparing for and then getting over Carnivales and then they wait for the rain to begin.

I always left places like Sri Lanka and Africa in summer because people aren’t all pent up and angry from being frozen solid for nine months so they don’t break out and go wild three months a year when the weather breaks. Mississippi, has a great summer. They have enough of a winter to really celebrate, and the heat’s extreme. To quote Jimmy Dees, the days are hotter than the inside of a cow. You drip all over the place in the scantiest little dresses you can find, drinking mint julip on City Grocery’s upper deck, feeling too flushed to eat, driving around in Johnny Little’s convertible Cadilac (when Johnny was still alive) all the way to an old plantation in the Delta where there’s a blues fest, and you can dance all night, you head down the Blue Ridge highway looking at the Indian mounds and eat crawfish by the waterside in New Orleans, fish at the reservoir off Johnny’s boat, the seat isn’t tethered to the floor so it flies up every time he hits the throttle. Summer there is never about the city, it’s about the countryside, Taylor catfish where you can write your sweetheart’s name in a heart on the wall, drink beer cooling on blocks of melting ice and listen to a three-person bluegrass band playing off a flat bed truck, everyone rides around in golf carts and Jane Rule Burdine will take you through her garden and give you fresh tomatoes to keep, there are blooming cotton fields, the car radio plays Hank on high and you dance under the full moon listening to the cicadas whine, when it’s too hot to sleep, you make midnight treks to Faulkner’s grave, it’s lush and steamy with insects and snakes and once in a while a thunderstorm breaks and you sit on someone’s deck sipping sweet tea and talking about the olden days when you used to run barefoot in rain and didn’t care a lick about getting soaked through to the bone and covered with mud.

That’s summer. The LWord can’t compare to that, even if Tina is getting boinked by Ms. Peabody in the pool. And as I lie on my couch watching the jungle grow out my window, I wonder if we should jump in the Jeep and head south til we hit sun. I am a little worried about the sanity of Vermonters after having skipped the season that makes us sane. So, while Shane O.D.’s on oxy cotton she stole from a fat movie producer’s bathroom, I think maybe I’ll get up and make some appeals to my new age altar, do some naked sun salutations to the west, dance for the star in the sky we can’t see because of the sheets of rain, then maybe our old friend will peak out from beneath these nickel-colored clouds, and I’ll actually be able to lose some of this melancholic nostalgia before Labor Day rolls around.

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6 Responses to “A Nostalgic Commentary on Summer”

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