Published: Jul 31, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 28, 2012 01:25 PM
Once and future summer
Back when we were kids, summers weren’t so hot. Bugs in the backyard weren’t so pestiferous and sno-cones tasted sweeter. Or so it seems, either because increasing distance adds a rose-colored tint to memories or because we just weren’t paying attention. No school trumped heat, chigger bites were the price you paid for wrestling in the grass and maybe the guy at our swimming pool just knew how to make a sno-cone.But you got to wonder if kids today have it as good as we did. You can figure that our elders’ childhood summers were pretty much like ours: For evidence, read Ray Bradbury’s classic ode to summertime Americana, “Dandelion Wine” – set, it says, in 1928 but no less real and true if it had been set in the year of its publication, 1957.Summers were hot and humid, but the nighttime air felt snug instead of stifling. Night was time to rock on the porch, enjoy the breeze that came up from the creek bottom and wrapped around the house before rattling the oak leaves, and watch mist rise off a lake mysteriously hidden beyond a patch of woods.That time of day was best in summer, from when the sun was low enough in the hazy sky you could look right at the big red ball, then fish would start to biting and doves sounded especially mournful.After supper there was time to get right back outside, where a bare spot was home plate, the pine tree was first base, the water spigot second and you made do with a stick in the ground for third.If not baseball there was always tag or hide and seek, or catching lightning bugs in Mason jars, or lying in the yard looking up to see who could spot the first star coming out and keeping watch for MiG-15s or flying saucers.On special occasions one of the neighbors would be churning peach ice cream and let the kids lick the dasher. Other times, when it was getting dark, someone’s dad might light an open fire and it was neat to watch the colors in the flames and feel the warmth – even if it was still 85 degrees, there was a chill in dark behind your back – and toast marshmallows until they blistered and dripped into the fire.Once it was really dark, it was time to be listening out and most nights, at some point, one of us would detect a faint, low-pitched hum coming our way. The Fog Truck! someone would shout, and then we’d listen as it got louder, came closer and then on some unspoken signal we’d go sprinting after the sound until we caught up with the mosquito-control sprayer and we’d chase it a block or two, reveling in the sweet summer fragrance of DDT.Air conditioning wasn’t ubiquitous except in stores, but since you weren’t expecting it the lack was no big deal. Sweat was normal. Open windows and a big fan in the attic kept us cool, or what we thought cool was back then, and afternoon showers always knocked the temperature down a degree or two. Or so the grownups told each other.Truth be told, summers back then could also be just long and dull, at least until some time in August when a realization would dawn there were only two weeks, or less ’til school started; and then every moment of liberty was so precious it took all the fun away and put desperation in its place.Lightning bugs still flash, fish still bite and doves mourn, and summer still is special even if the fog truck sprays no more DDT; but you wonder what manner of special it will seem to this era’s kids when they are graying and dreaming back, 50 or so years from now.No telling. It’s a good bet though, that summers won’t have been so hot, bug won’t have been so bad and sno-cones will have tasted better – or words to the same effect. Things tend to turn out that way.