Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunny Afternoon

When the grass gets greener and the sidewalk is decorated with brightly coloured chalks, I know summer must be right around the corner. The tinkling sounds of the ice cream truck has a pied-piper effect on the children and open patios turn busy adults on to frosted glass delights.

The summer reminds me of my Pa (my mother's father). Around Easter, my Pa takes advantage of having his granddaughters' strapping young boyfriends around his table eating his ham to haul them all outside for the annual taking-the-boat-out-of-storage dance (note: they don't actually dance). Meanwhile, us ladies, left inside, bristle at being thought too weak to overturn an old tin fishing boat. Poo poo. From Easter on (until Thanksgiving, where the ritual is repeated in reverse), Pa gets up at some ungodly hour and goes fishing on the mighty St Lawrence River. Okay, it's not mighty. But the river part was true. And when I was young, he used to take me along. I remember...being strongly encouraged to dress in being freezing at 5 am and scorching by noon...I remember waving at every single boat that passed us by....I remember the old plaque that he hung over his bar that said "Old Fishermen never die, they just smell that way".... I remember being slapped in the face with a fish when my younger sister finally reeled one in and then didn't know what to do with it....I remember peeing in a margarine container, then throwing it overboard....I remember the fishy smell and the wind on my face, and the thump of the waves against the boat, and the feel of a bamboo pole in my hands and the sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper that my Nanny would send for lunch. I also remember getting up on the mornings it had rained to hunt for worms, the only kind of bait my Pa ever used. I would throw them into a coffee can, and my Pa paid me 5 cents each!

Summer reminds me of sautons en coeur (jump rope for heart). When the weather started turning nice, each classroom would get a box of old skipping ropes, though they were not rope at all but that nasty plastic that would leave welts on all the kids who got too close. I went to a french catholic school that had almost no funds to speak of, so the skipping ropes were like treasures, and there were never enough for all the students, so when the recess bell rang you ran like heck to the vestibule to try to claim one. I remember the naughty french poems we used to recite while skipping, and the way our skirts would flutter over our heads, showing off little girl panties everywhere you looked, and the whizzing sound they made slicing through the air once you got a fast enough pace going, and the feeling of adrenaline that pulsed through our young veins when we waited in line to be pushed into the torturous double-dutch jump! And my left knee still bears a scar from when I was purposely tripped during double ditch by a mean older boy named Chris (who I later found out was punched by my husband during a game of the universe has a way of making things even, I suppose).

Summer reminds of what it feels like to burn the soles of your feet. The deck attached to the back of our house would reach impossible temperatures, it seemed, and I remember chancing the heat while I made a run for the pool, a run that consisted of : scorch, scorch, scorch, jump, splash, ahhhhhh, and all the laundry hung out to dry on the line would be soaked with chlorine-smelling water and my mother would have to pretend to be mad even though her mad dash to the pool was usually very similar. I would spend hours floating around in the too-blue water, a t-shirt over my bathing suit, protecting the sunburn blisters that I had despite my best efforts and the strongest spf known to humankind, my hair plastered to my head and freckles sprouting out over every exposed piece of skin. It was bliss...until my baby sister decided to join, thereby effectively emptying the pool in record time...she was a known pool-pee-er, and only the sight of her in her floaties making her watery entry could entice us to exit our refreshing oasis.

Summer makes me think of green onions (usually known as scallions to the rest of the world, though I never even heard the word til I was 19 or so). Everyone grew green onions in their garden, and at my grandmother's table, a water tumbler would save as a sort of onion-vase, where the green onions would be cleaned and trimmed, and placed in whole and raw, and people would take one, then reach for the salt shaker, get a little pool of salt going in the corner of their vinyl placemat, then they'd swirl the onion in the salt, and eat it just like that.

Summer makes me think of the butterfly nets and frog-catching-kits that used to amuse us to no end. Our neighbourhood was filled with creeks and ditches and the kind of standing water that nowadays screams "west nile" but back then used to mean "adventure!". I remember once, when I was old enough to be busy catching warm-blooded males instead of cold-blooded amphibians, my sisters raced home with tales of "giant rats" that had apparently taken up residence in the ditch a few doors down. The "giant rats" turned out to be beavers, and they seemed to follow my sisters home and take up residence in our backyard for a while, where we also saw rabbits (which our dog took to imitating, hop hop hopping around, the first documented case of canine identity crisis), and foxes, and many others.

Summer reminds me of nights too hot to cook, and relatives stopping by with buckets of chicken and beach towels, hoping this is a fair exchange for a dip in our pool, and how the fried chicken place always had a beach ball giveaway and by the end of summer, we'd go to the beach and toss around the 37 of them that we'd accumulated, only they were the kind that you blew up and then added some water to, so when you tossed them they were oddly weighted and wonky and they'd blow all over the beach, and we'd run around, toes in sand and bathing suits like second skin.

I remember getting on the riding lawn mower and putting in the several hours that it took to mow our big back yard...the backyard was fine though, because it was straight forward once you got used to the uncomfortable angle of mowing on a hill (I developed great ass muscles!) and I could listen to Vanilla Ice on my walkman as much as I liked. The front yard was trickier. The front yard was where I would run over the young trees my mother had planted (and ringed with a pie plate for an ineffectual warning), and where I'd ding the blades on the stone of our walkway, and where worst of all, I would often get stuck in the ditch. The mower was just the right size to get wedged right in there, and I would sit on the screaming mower and yell for help, would would go unheard for sometimes 30 minutes...but I'd heard stories about getting off a mower and losing a toe or a foot or god knows what else...and each time my mother would come out, scowl, and then mime at me to turn the thing off...why of why did I never think of that simple solution when I get stuck? But I never did, I just sat there terrified each time, never thinking to just turn off the engine. Eventually a few neighbours would see the mower in the ditch and they'd help us push it we would help push out theirs as well, because mowers got stuck in ditches, that's just what happened in the summer.

Summer is running around in the backyard barefoot and eventually stepping on one of those prickly weeds.

Summer is eating outside, corn on the cob and steaks from the barbecue, and shooing flies all the while.

Summer is driving with the windows down, big shad flies going splat on the windshield, and either exposed skin sticking to burning hot leather seats, or else sweaty backs making shirts damp on the upholstered ones.

Summer is eating a popsicle quickly, quickly before it melts, trying to catch the drips as they invariably form sticky rivulets down your wrists, trying not to let it break apart, carrying the stain of it on your tongue for the rest of the day.

Summer is picking a buttercup, twirling it under someone's chin, and, if it reflects yellow, accusing them of being a "butter-lover"!

Summer is mosquito bites and camp fires and swing sets in need of oil and squeaky pool noodles and impromptu baseball games and broken sunglasses and coolers full of beer and grass stained knees and humidity ruining our hairdos and throwing pebbles for hopscotch and mothers yelling "close the screen door!" as the kids run out of the house.

I love me some summer, and I'm glad it's almost here, and I hope you'll tell me why you love it too.

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