As fall nears, a longing for childhood's summers


I CAN'T believe summer is almost over. The nights are cooling off. The air has a heavier, duller scent of spent flowers and dusty fields. The sun hits the porch with a tired air, too weak to really summon enough rays to matter. The night sounds are less hopeful than dire.

Lying in the hammock has lost its appeal when you need a sweater. The fan doesn't hum at night, the extra quilt is out of the cedar chest, and no one has slept in the tent for a few weeks.

Summer is on its way out. I hate that. I want summer to last longer. It did when I was a kid, let me tell you. Summer was at least three years long every year. Days stretched on endlessly.

I swam and read and played and fought with my brother and sister. I went on picnics, and explored the woods behind my house, and formed clubs with the neighbor kids. This was all just the first week after school was over.

The rest of the summer was crammed even fuller. I remember the day when we got our canoe. My dad won it with a $1 lottery ticket. It was so cool. We spent most of the day paddling that canoe around Butterfield Lake, which was down the big hill behind our house.

Every day for weeks, Dad would drop us off at the lake in the morning with the canoe, and we would leave it there and walk back and forth between the lake and home all day. In the evening, Dad would fetch the canoe with the car. We spent a lot of time at the lake in the summer.

For one thing, our well was not deep, and in the summer, we had to save water. That meant every night we went to the lake to wash our hair. You suds up and dive in. Hold your nose, swirl around under water, come spluttering to the top, push the hair out of your eyes -- and do it one more time to make sure all the soap is gone.

My dad used to launch us in the water, too. That was a blast. He linked his hands, and we stood on them. Then, with a heave, we flew through the air about 500 feet (give or take) and splashed down into the water.

My brother John loved summer. He spent a lot of time building treehouses. We weren't allowed to climb trees, so his treehouses were always on the ground, but he diligently spent days constructing shacks with splintery boards and rusty, bent nails.

There was always a secret escape hatch (a loose board in the back), but it was never really clear whom or what he might have to escape from.

I want those days back. I want summer to last three years, not three rushed weeks. I want the days to stretch on endlessly in one hot, wet-bathing-suited, cheese-crackered, tadpole-collecting, sandy-blanketed ribbon. Is that too much to ask?

Julie DeGroat originally wrote this for the Daily Times of Watertown, N.Y.

Pub Date: 9/22/99

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