This was made clear to me the other day. At home I emptied a toy box and out poured sand. I do live in San Diego, where some people are on the beach year round, but still—sand and summer go hand in hand and the cascade of sand certainly brought it home that it’s summer. As in literally brought home the summer (sand).
Today at the park a few friends and I chatted while the kiddos frolicked nearby. The adults hid in the shade while the kids turned the play structure into a castle. One friend mentioned an upcoming trip to Spokane, Washington and we started talking about differences between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. This unleashed several happy memories for me and I decided that a blog post about summer was in order.
First I’ll set the scene before we stroll down memory lane. I grew up in Southern California, and some might argue that there’s barely a difference between winter and summer here. There’s a touch of truth to that, yes. But there are differences and some of my memories are clearly summer memories. Here are a few of my favorites:
Camping. The first time I camped was the summer when I was six or seven years old. I was young enough to feel that bringing a doll (and her accessories) was essential for a good camping trip. My grandparents organized the trip, with Grandad planning for every possible need with the precision that an engineer brings to everything s/he does. The tents and cots were old—olive green canvas ones from Grandad’s military days. These days camping cots are better designed than the old ones, but in the camping trips of my youth, I slept soundly on the cots (as kids tend to do). It was exciting to sleep somewhere different. We’d wake to good smells coming from the camping stove. Another camping memory was from a different trip, years later. After arriving we decided that there was a spot a little better nearby. We did what all pioneering campers do (when they’ve already set up the tent)—we picked up the domed nylon tent and walked it the few hundred feet to the new site. Easy-peasy.
Running through the sprinklers. In the 80s, when I was a kid, we didn’t worry about drought in California. Sprinklers and hoses weren’t just for decoration—they were for using. They were for fun. Jumping through the arcs of water on the front lawn was such joy. Sometimes I’d hold the garden hose near the nozzle and make swirls through the air, the drops of water making wiggly shapes as they fell.
Barbecues and dinners outside. At times Dad cooked on the barbecue in our back yard, and other times we brought dinner Mom made in the kitchen out to the picnic table out back. At my grandparents’ house nearby, outdoor eating was a summer staple, and always meant using the grill. My grandfather used a charcoal grill, which took hours to get hot. But like everything else he did, he liked taking the time to do things just right. Grandad cooked hamburgers on his grill, wearing a chef’s hat (usually in red and white gingham) and we often had watermelon at the end. I can still hear the “whap” of the screen door closing as we made trips from the kitchen out to the patio, bringing plates and food outside. My grandma always heaped praise on my sister and me for being such helpers. To a kid, these words were like gold. Today my grandparents’ picnic table is in my back yard, and we sit at it when we grill at my house. I think the gingham chef’s hat is long gone, but I believe my grandparents are at the table with us in spirit…
Sundresses. There are a number of photos of my sister and me, taken on summer trips when we were kids. In many, we wear sundresses--sometimes matching ones. Sundresses were summer clothes. Ditto for shorts. There’s a funny photo of me in shorts when I’m about seven. We were visiting relatives (in Maine?) and I’m hiding behind my dad because there are geese nearby. My fearless, younger sister is playing with the geese but at age seven, I was scared of everything. In shorts my legs were clearly vulnerable and what am I? A goose snack? I don’t think so.
Swimming. On the street where I grew up, an elderly neighbor, Ann, had an above-ground pool. She allowed my sister and me to come swim whenever we liked. We’d pester Mom to call Ann to see if it was a convenient time to come over. Ann was always home and never turned down our request. I remember the smell of chlorine as we walked through Ann’s detached garage, which led to the back yard and pool. The pool was magic. We liked swimming and coming up with games to play in the pool. Sometimes we’d bring inner tubes that Mom bought us. We must have gone swimming in her pool for several years at least (when I was aged seven until eleven, I’d say), and at some point the pool became a mixed bag for me. When I was nine or so I decided that a snake lived at the deep end of the pool, underwater. I know you’re laughing--but when you’re little, snakes and other scary creatures are frightening. I never asked my mom to look at the deep end (which was hidden with a plastic cover)—I kept the fear to myself. But I sometimes cast a nervous glance toward the deep end—just in case. Better not to be caught off-guard. At some point I must have decided that the snake no longer lived there, and the pool became a purely fun place again. I still see Ann’s backyard in my head: the blue sky overhead, our shrieks of joy, the splashing, the wonder of having a kindly neighbor whose pool was five or six houses away and open and waiting for us whenever we liked. Thanks, Ann.
Berry picking. Berry picking is just an everyday thing for people who live in certain climates. For instance, our relatives in Canada see blackberries growing wild all spring and summer, year after year. But there are few things less familiar and more exciting to two kids from Los Angeles than seeing blackberries growing by the side of the road. STOP THE CAR!!!! Giddy with excitement, we’d beg our parents to pull over and let us pick berries. On several summer trips to see relatives, the berry picking stands out as a happy memory. You’d have to watch for thorns, but that didn’t deter us. Sometimes a large spider web stood in the way of the perfect clump of ripe berries and we’d have to weigh the threat of a spider encounter against the glory of reaching the clump of berries. (Add fear of spiders to my childhood fears of snakes, geese, dogs, big kids, going fast downhill on roller skates, and fear of my own shadow.) Berry picking wasn’t something I could do in LA, and it remains a hugely nostalgic memory from my summer trips. Recently I decided that I might like to have my own blackberries to pick so Hubby gave me two blackberry plants for Mothers Day. I am delighted to report that they are growing. We probably will not end up with huge walls of blackberry plants, like they have in Canada, but this summer I’m getting a lot of joy watching my own blackberry plants grow.
If you grew up somewhere with real winters, you still might insist that in Southern California it’s always summer. But summer does have a different feel than the rest of the year. A later sunset. Walks in the neighborhood after dinner. Swimsuits and campfires and lots of free time. The break from the school routine was important. Having a chance to just be made summer good.
What are your favorite summer memories?