Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Szymanski: Pondering the origins of summer favorites while lamenting the season's end

If you are like me, your heart is aching because we are about to say goodbye to the summer. It hits even harder this year because we lost so many good days — eaten up by rain or extreme heat. I am wondering about the things that make me love summer so much, and that makes me curious about where those things got their start.

When I think about summer, flip-flops and bathing suits come to mind. I dream about picnics, catching lightning bugs, chasing the ice cream truck or eating popsicles. I envision long drives where we stop for farmers markets and lemonade stands along the way.


I made a list of what I consider to be the most important ingredients of summer. Then did a little research to see how they became staples of our summer season. Since I love family get-together’s I started with picnics. tells us that the word “picnic” most likely came from the French term “pique-nique” which was used from the mid-1600s on to describe foodies who brought their own wine when dining out. Up until Victorian times, picnics were primarily for the wealthy. Common folks could barely scrape together the fixings for a proper indoor meal, let alone conjure up a feast in a basket. The Nostalgia Diaries online tell us that Lyndon B. Johnson hosted the first White House barbecue in 1963, serving Texas-style barbecued ribs and elevating the picnic to “a barbecue.”


Line drawings inside most history books are littered with sandaled feet so it was not surprising to learn that flip-flops are considered one of the first forms of footwear. If we trace pictures back to ancient Egyptian murals, we know they have been in use since as early as 4,000 B.C., so my flip-flops are not only summer wear, they are period dress!

There is no way to know for sure, but I bet kids have been chasing lightning bugs for just as long as humans have been wearing flipflops. Smithsonian Magazine says there are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, which are actually not flies, but a type of beetle. Male fireflies flash their light to attract females. Each species has its own flashing pattern. Some species flash yellow, some flash green and some share white.

After chasing fireflies in the summer heat, every kid needs a popsicle or an ice cream. The first popsicle was created in 1905 when 11-year-old Frank Epperson stirred a package of soda mix into a cup of water with a stick, then left it on his porch overnight. The temperature outside dropped so much that young Frank found a delicious frozen treat in the morning, complete with a handle — the first Popsicle.

When we are out of popsicles, an ice cream will always do! It’s especially fun when I am visiting my grandkids and the ice cream truck comes around the corner, blaring happy music. It was Harry Burt of Youngstown, Ohio who came up with the first ice cream truck. He was also the creator of the Good Humor brand of ice cream.

Like popsicles, lemonade stands go a long way back in history with the first documented lemonade stands introduced on Brooklyn street cars by entrepreneur Edward Bok in 1873. I wonder when kids figured out that they could sell this easy to mix drink on the street, the first “real job” for many? I can never resist stopping for a kid.

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You know summer is almost over when the amount of fresh produce drops off at local farmers markets. Despite the fact that grocery stores now dominate our landscape, the number of farmers’ markets are on the increase — proving that Americans love fresh summer produce. In 1994 less than 2,000 farmers markets were registered in the USDA Farmer’s Market directory. Now, more than 9,000 are listed.

There are other signs I hate to see that show us summer is over. Buses hit the road and rush hour becomes a nightmare again. Swimsuits go on sale while college ruled notebooks and Halloween decorations hit the front of the stores. As if that’s not bad enough, our tan lines begin to fade, and preseason football dominates the television screen. Kids pack up their brand-new backpacks, each filled with goodies that match the current grade list. It’s hot and sticky, feeling like full-blast summer, but the truth is evident - the sweet days of summer are draining away. We try to sneak in one more get-away to the beach. We watch the days get shorter.

While picking a bucket of tomatoes from our garden, I notice that the vines are emptying. No green tomatoes wait for the sun to ripen them. The cucumbers and squash vines are nearly dead. They know their season is almost complete.


I put on summer music, as if that will make the season stick around just a little longer. You know the songs … “Summer Nights” from the movie “Grease,” Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun,” the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and other favorites. I play “Here Comes the Sun” and “Good Day Sunshine,” by the Beatles and “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft. If I blast these songs again and again, maybe it will hold back the cold weather.

When I feed the ponies, I notice that Hazel is already sprouting winter chin hairs. Is this a sign that there’s a hard winter ahead? I shrug that thought away, trim the hair and try to forget it was ever there. But nothing I do will stop the season from changing.

I know that some people look forward to fall and winter. They love the crisp cool air. That is not me. I need sunshine. I need popsicles and watermelon, and picnics with fireflies.

So, I am making a winter plan. I’ll pretend the school buses are tour buses heading for Gettysburg. I’ll chase the blues with summery pina coladas. I’ll crank up the heat and put my flip-flops on. I’ll make barbecued chicken meals with lemonade chasers. I’ll worship summer until it returns. Because — thankfully — it always does.