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Thursday, September 20 News

In Other Words / Ode to summer

Summer: that rascal, that sultress, that fickle tease that gets us all hot and bothered, and then, without warning, drops us smack into autumn without so much as a proper goodbye. And therein, lies her allure. Like a houseguest whose arrival we eagerly await, summer does not overstay her welcome, but as September approaches, leaves as softly as a whisper.

For many, the summer months are the bane of their existence. “Hot enough for you?” my mailman asks, and I am tempted to say: “No, never,” but heat can become overbearing, and climate change guarantees more extremes than ever before. Soon, I am forced to beg for mercy by seeking refuge in cooler places. The shade of my backyard oak tree beckons, or that spot at Compo Beach where the road curve, and a breeze gently alights before it turns the corner and disappears. Some retreat to their air-conditioned worlds, cursing summer’s relentless clingy hold. Units hang off windowsills like ugly gargoyles; or central air wafts through rooms with a teeth-chattering vengeance.

For me, summer is the Queen of the Seasons, which I welcome into my life like a long-lost friend, whose absence has been sorely missed. Around late March (my birthday month) I begin to feel the first tremors of change. The wind blows, but it is a different kind of wind — frisky and playful, less shrill— that shakes the snow off branches, and whirls around in a state of frenzy, a reminder that spring is cleaning house in preparation of a new season.

Childhood summers marked the beginning of freedom from my ordinary routine. Shovels and galoshes were stored away. Winter coats and jackets were sent off to the dry cleaners to be boxed. Lighter bed covers were spread over sheets like gossamer wings, replacing wool blankets that felt heavy on my small frame.

After the snow and sniffles were wiped away, and spring departed, there she was: “The Golden Goddess” when life, as I knew it, suddenly came to a halt. My schoolbooks were not yet put away before I could sense summer’s arrival. Peering out the open classroom windows, its scent filled the room in intoxicating splendor.

I came to cherish those magical days of my childhood when life was put on hold. My father pulled out the backyard hose, sweat glistening off his muscular back. The kitchen windows were flung open, and cherry pies sat on windowsill, aromatic steam rising from its pores like open wounds bleeding cherry juice down the glass plates.

New York City summers were different. The skyscrapers seemed to float against the hazy backdrop of the sun, and the sidewalks felt hot under my feet. Traffic slowed, leaving the city cloaked in lethargy, and I was sent off to camp for a brief reprieve amongst the green and purple Adirondack Mountains.

Country summers had its own mystique. Catching fireflies became de rigueur. Picnics were spread out on damp green lawns, and running through sprinklers, building sand castles, and poring through Nancy Drew mysteries were memories that resonate still.

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Each evening I stood at the curb waiting for the Good Humor truck to turn into my street. It was a time of collecting sea shells, roasting marshmallows, and drinking glasses of icy lemonade, so sweet it made my teeth squeak, and jumping rope until my mother called me in for dinner.

Back then I slept with my windows opened, so it was not only the smells of summer, but its sounds that lingered on. I could hear the muffled chatter of my parents sitting on the back porch engrossed in adult conversation, while the distant neighborhood noises lulled me to sleep.

Mostly, summer was, and still is, different from all other seasons. For a moment, life stands still and it is not until late August that the harbinger of change is felt. That’s when sunburns stop itching, beaches empty out earlier, as cooler winds whip up the waves, abandoned boxes of strawberries sit alone, no longer holding the same allure, and store shelves are piled high with notebooks, rulers and funnel-shaped lunch boxes. The August light is different with earlier sunsets slithering behind the horizon, and soon acorns will be dancing on decks, signaling that autumn is not far behind. And I, who wait all year for summer’s arrival begin mourning its departure before it even happens.

Perhaps, nature intended it this way. Like a passionate, but brief love affair that stops one’s heart for a moment and then jolts us back to reality, summer, too, must be short-lived to appreciate her splendor. She is the haunting mistress who woos us into sublime submission, and then moves on.

But what remains is the gift of memory, so that on long winter nights when winds howl and we are snowbound and cold, suddenly we recall a kiss in the summer moonlight, a child’s laugh on the beach at twilight, or that first taste of watermelon on a scorching July afternoon. It is then that the chill is momentarily lifted, and winter seems less harsh.

But here she is once again: the elusive Goddess, a reminder of slower days, when for a while we can put our torments to rest, and our lives on hold, as we bask in the joy of doing absolutely nothing at all.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.

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