June 24, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Whatever happened to the good old summertime?

When we think of summertime, we often imagine all the clichés gained from books and movies, stuff like wearing a raggedy straw hat and fishing with a bamboo pole in the Mississippi River with Tom Sawyer. All the lazy, hazy days of summer nostalgia hits us and we think, whatever happened to that kind of summer?

Well, to tell the truth, I don’t think it ever existed, at least not since Tom Sawyer was alive. Probably, not even then.

The way I remember summer back in prehistoric times when I was young, it was always hot and sunny. There were grasshoppers forever jumping out of the long grass and noisy insects making the only sounds except for an occasional airplane going overhead.

Since I lived on a farm, the smell outside was not always related to flowers and shrubs. However, when Dad mowed the field there was a heavenly odor of mown grass and even better, alfalfa or clover. Overhead, the skies were always that bright Minnesota blue, with occasional chubby white clouds.

Summer meant wearing shorts, riding my bike into town to go swimming in Lake Minnetonka, and sleeping in a tent in the back yard with my girlfriend. I also spent a week every July with my grandparents in Wisconsin. They had a serious farm, which included a bull, a very big deal indeed.

Our kids didn’t live on a farm, but they also had the bike riding and camping out, plus lots of softball and football in the lot next door. Vacations were always part of their summer, at first to visit grandparents and family and later, when Dad had more time off, to travel the country.

Ah yes, vacations. The way this went was, Dad made an itinerary for a certain area we hadn’t visited before. He’d figure mileage, available campgrounds and, most important, whatever historic sites were on the way coming and going. No matter how obscure.

Funds were limited, so we’d figure costs down to the last dollar, with a certain amount of money allotted for each day. If we had to pay an unexpected entrance fee one day, we’d make up for it with peanut butter sandwiches the next.

There was a certain amount of grumbling among the troops, including me, but nostalgia has made these marathons into wonderful memories. Our family sits around now marveling at the fun we had, the many places we saw, the history we absorbed (or knew we should have).

If we were honest and nostalgia had not colored our opinions, we might not put summers in this pleasant light. For instance, I’d remember the ubiquitous poison ivy, which made me miserable for at least one month every summer.

Our kids would probably only remember the long car rides, with squirming little brothers plastered hotly next to them, and droning guides telling them all kinds of things they didn’t care to know about Fort Ticonderoga or Sutter’s Mill.

Even Mark Twain, in writing “Tom Sawyer,” was probably seeing his Missouri childhood through a rosy lens. His summers seemed always relaxed and free, the great river ran majestically and the fishing was good.

Summers are just one more wonderful gift from our God. And, so are the reconstituted memories we take from them.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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