Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"There Is Never Enough Time To Do All The Nothing You Want"

“What I heard then was the melody of children at play.” Nabokov

I love summer. Lovelovelovelove Summer. I love how the sun comes up around five and it isn’t dark until nine at night. I like the sound of the cicadas. I remember the crickets and frogs from Texas, a sound rare here. The trees are lush and green; flowers are in full bloom and it is blissfully hot. Everything looks healthy and robust. I like the way wind sounds as it brushes the cottonwood leaves. It’s my favorite time of the year and yet only lasts twelve short weeks. Last summer I discovered rising early every summer day away from the hospital allowed me time to accomplish more “nothing”. Too bad this summer is the exception. Not only am I accomplishing absolutely nothing but I’m sleeping in like a teenager. I did manage to knock back the weeds, deadhead the flowers and plant a few more things after we returned from our vacation. But that was with help and only because the yard, garden and flowerbeds were in rough shape after two weeks of neglect. But suddenly, I’m seized with a complete lack of interest in doing anything other than lying in the sun on the lounge chair and reading. Mind you last summer I did this, too but only after my chores and projects were accomplished. My summer work ethic has flown far far away. I hope it’s landed and someone is putting it to good use.

I think my generation is the second generation to enjoy summer, free of gritty hard work. I grew up in the suburbs so it wasn‘t like I had to work on a farm, either. Always the suburbs, the halcyon place of comfort and ease. Especially during the summer: no school, a few chores and plenty of time to wander the wild spaces just on the other side of the fence or swim in the local pool, cruise the neighborhood on my bike, or lounge around the boat dock. The only thing I had to worry about was going to the swimming pool, getting a ride to the library, which trashy reruns was I going to watch and if I was eating dinner at my friend’s house or my house. My father’s generation worked from a young age, either odd jobs in town or on the farm. When I am sentimental about my childhood it is summer I remember. Not winter, spring or back-to-school autumns. Playing hide and seek in the Big Thicket just on the other side of our yard in SE Texas; when it was safe to let your seven year old out of your line of sight, untethered by a cell phone with GPS, barefooted no less. My child’s memory thinks we wandered miles from home but if I were to return to this place I would find it much more compact and nearby. That is, if it were there to explore. The Big Thicket is almost completely gone except for a few acres the Indians managed to hold away from the developers. That wild space in summer taught me the names of flowers and that I must be immune from poison ivy and oak because it was rampant in the piney woods. I stopped wandering around barefooted after a snake bite (in our front yard) when I was eight. But it’s still an act of God’s grace in action OF (oldest friend) and I didn’t turn over a rock and awaken a dozing rattle snake in New Mexico. Blessed be, not even a scorpion sting, only a honey bee sting. Perhaps I had my due with a venomous snake bite? I was almost a teenager when we moved back to Texas and a creek ran close to our home with a marshy bit of woods but I was too old for that and preferred just walking the neighborhood streets with a friend or two. This, and one of my good friends had a pool in her backyard Wandering the creek was for little kids. But once my incarceration at the lake began, I would wander around the fields near our land. I hated going to the lake with my parents; it was made bearable if a friend came along. My two best friends’ parents were convinced their daughters were taking advantage of my parents. Years later, I explained to one of my friends’ mom (the friend with the pool) that T didn’t eat much and it kept me from driving my mother insane. One would think, that my love affair with summer would have made weekends at the lake even sweeter. Or that a lake was way better than a swimming pool. Not so much.

There was plenty of nothing to do that first summer at the lake. For me at least. I certainly wasn’t going to build a retaining wall or help pour cement for the boat dock. Or move dirt from one pile to the other. I was way way too busy being miserable to help with the work. I think by August we had a television in the trailer. If I remember correctly it a miniscule black and white set with a terrible antenna. Maybe. We did have a radio but my father had me convinced the only station it would get was an AM Country station. What, being SO FAR from the city and all. I think I was in my thirties when I figured out he had lied to me so I wouldn’t bother touching the radio to find another more suitable station. That first summer at the lake, I read War And Peace. I was thirteen and I read Tolstoy. That’s freakin’ bored. And I wrote probably the most anachronistic historical romance ever written by a young girl. I found a copy of it when we moved to The Fabulous House In The Suburbs. I very systematically ripped the spiral notebook into tiny pieces, a time consuming task which offered up plenty of time for me to wince and throw up a little in my mouth as I read each astoundingly bad word. Dad foolishly tried to get me interested in fishing. Again. A few years before, he tried to take the family fishing. I was not having any part of it and so noisy no one was catching fish until he rigged my line and for forty years (yes, 40 not 4) I thought I had caught that fish. “Catching” the fish probably only kept me quiet for an hour or so but that’s better than nothing. So he thought maybe I was a grown up enough to enjoy down time, sitting in a boat at dawn staring at the water and a small piece of nylon string. Because, yeah, that is way way more interesting than watching a snowy version of the Match Game or reading Tolstoy at the decent hour of ll:30 in the morning. And to my credit, I tried but I stopped trying because I did have a few minutes of mature, empathetic clarity, and felt sorry for Dad because it seemed like all he did was untangle my line. Is it any wonder the second and third summer we had a lake place, my parents let me stay with my sister in Southern California for a few weeks? I’m sure their ears stopped ringing from the complaints, sighs and whining after about ten days of being blissfully teenager angst free. I never asked them what they did while I was gone that month: I probably don’t want to know.

One of the best summer’s ever was the summer of ‘82. My hours as a nurses' assistant at the hospital had been reduced and I was living with my best friend, her boyfriend and Jack. That July, BF-boyfriend and I camped our way to the Texas coast, with stops in Austin and San Antonio. BF couldn’t go; she was starting her career as a nurse that summer. It was also the summer I read Lolita with Jack. We took turns reading it out loud to each other. This came about because I had been reading Tess Of The d’Urbervilles and was so depressed by it, my three housemates took it away from me, sick of my tears and rants about the injustice of it all. I‘m not sure why Jack thought Humbert Humbert‘s fantasies of a young girl were going to make it all better. I wish I could ask him. That summer was the beginning of Jack’s untimely and premature march towards a senseless and completely preventable death. Because he is gone, the memories are a little sweeter and more precious. I’m thankful the two most painful episodes in my life happened in the summer months because I know they were made more bearable by the simplicity and generosity of the season. Besides that, the painful stuff always seemed to happen just before school started again and the new school year made everything new in one episode and the other episode just gave me courage to start a new life one autumn.

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