The calendar says that it’s Summer today. It’s the time when people expect life to be at its peak. There are the swimming pools, the smell of fresh cut lawns, and the luxury of barbecued food for dinner. For most children, this is the time of school vacation. Many families pack their bags and head out on road trips.
These are in store the next few months, here in the Northern Hemisphere. I remind myself about these things as I try to get into the spirit for my least favorite season. I used to love this time of the year; I really did. That was until I suffered two bouts of serious heat stroke and got older. Now, I just wait things out until the glorious chill of wintertime.
I honestly try to put a good spin on summertime, but the mental vision of my parents’ and grandparents’ stories about their hard tackle summers was drilled into my mind when I was just a child. The deprivations they suffered just to raise my parents through the long desolate summers in South Dakota and Nebraska during the Great Depression.
I was weened on heartbreaking stories about years of no crops to harvest because of the long drought of the Dust Bowl. Lots of stories about waves of grasshoppers invading to devour everything in sight. They even ate pitchfork handles made of wood. I heard of the days in southern South Dakota when mom lived in a sod house and she had to collect cow chips from the dry prairie to use as cooking fuel.
Dad remembered that the Summer break did not mean rest and relaxation. He and his siblings had to spend their days helping to run the family’s struggling northeast Nebraska farm. Everyone had to pitch in just to survive another week.
Dad had one story he enjoyed telling about one summer night of his young adolescence in rural Wayne County. It was a larcenous incident regarding a neighbor’s watermelon patch and youthful temptation and mischief. He was caught redhanded by the neighbor. Instead of asking for payment, which was impossible anyway, the neighbor had the miscreant sit at the kitchen table and eat every scrap of the melon that could be humanly consumed.
I hope dad had more fun than that one thrill of stealing the watermelon. The farm was far from any shady stream, so there was no chance of sneaking away for quick swims. Of course, if there had been a creek, it would have been bone dry, due to the drought.
Midwesterners did take summertime car trips. Those that mom and dad knew about were one-way journeys in beat up black sedans. The travelers were not in search of vacation memories, they only sought a second chance in California. I can only imagine the drudgery of an overloaded pitch-black old Dodge, making its way on dusty dirt roads. There was no air conditioning, so the trek would have been hot and
I keep asking myself, “Why did Detroit cover most of the cars in those days with black paint?” Black readily shows the slightest amount of dirt, and black is the most heat absorbent color of them all. No wonder there were so many more convertibles in those days. Roof up or roof down, a ride down a dirt road in Nebraska or South Dakota, during the Dust Bowl days, would be no picnic–literally.
Those bleak stories about the Dirty Thirties colored my own happier Summer breaks. I felt thankful that my siblings and I didn’t have to toil away on a farm. We lived within easy bicycling distance of the municipal swimming pool. If we weren’t swimming, my brother and I went exploring the city of Lincoln on our bikes, most days.
What was really a treat was when the family loaded the beige Buick with our gear and took vacation trips to places like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, or Yosemite. Even though the car wasn’t air conditioned, the trips were still pleasant and took place on modern, paved highways.
There are lots of things about Summer to hate and to love. I’m doing my best to try to like this time of the year.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author Sarah Dessen. “In the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other. Out of school, everything was on pause and yet happening at the same time, this collection of weeks when anything was possible.”