June 11, 2012

Summer, Sweet Summer

If I were to compare the year to the cycle of a washing machine, then this time of year, the end of the school year, would be the spin cycle. It seems everyone around me is spinning and spinning with the busy-ness of life, but holding on tightly until the madness stops in hopes that they, like a line of washing can soon stretch out to move only with the calm and ease of a gentle summer breeze.

I see it in my children most of all. This time of year their schoolmates, restless and tired of schoolwork and routine act up and make the day that much more difficult. The teachers are also growing tired and perhaps do not act fairly in all situations, which frustrates and provokes my teenagers and their friends, whom I am sure are a bit testy and impatient in return. As the year's activities come to an end we celebrate with recitals and concerts, tournaments and lunches out for parent volunteers. The very things that kept us and our children motivated, busy and happy all year long, become, if not tiresome, just one more thing to keep track of. By the end of June, our schedules winding down, we make room on our calendars for completely different events: summer barbecues, impromptu beach days, family road trips and berry picking; easy mornings with coffee on the deck and a run before the heat of the day sets in and frosty drinks in the afternoon before a light supper of salads and fresh bread from the farmers market.

I remember well from my own childhood that sense of completion of yet another school year. The summer seemed to stretch endlessly in front of me, formless and beautiful and full of light. Full of endless possibilities. Once I was old enough to be let loose on my own I spent day after day with friends at the beautiful shady parks and sandy beaches of our hometown. And those days, as I remember them, were hot enough to think of frying an egg on the sidewalk. We would walk the mile or so down to the beach and spend the day sunning ourselves on the hot, dry sand in between dips in the refreshingly cold glacier fed lake. If we had a bit of money we would buy drinks or popsicles from the canteen in the park above the beach. If we had lots of money we went for ice cream at the Dairy Queen up the street. If we had no money we would bring snacks from home. When the sun began to travel towards the western mountains we would pack up our beach bag with our sun lotion if we had any, our towels and books, and begin the long uphill trudge back home in our bathing suits and shorts. By the time we reached Gyro Park our backs would be dripping with sweat from the heat, the moisture gathering at the waistband of our shorts. Until we were twelve we could go in the pool, and it was free of charge - and still is. The water was freezing but we would dive straight in, the enveloping cold more welcome than anything we could imagine at that moment. Refreshed once again, we would make the final trek home, just a few blocks more. On very hot days, I would go under our garden sprinkler while I waited for the call for supper. I practically lived in my bathing suit in those summers, and it was glorious.

The beach where I spent much of my summer holidays

A few times every summer my family would go to Champion Lakes or Kokanee Park for the whole day. The food preparation would go on all the previous day, and early in the morning the coolers would be packed full of sandwiches and fruit, tarts and cookies. We would arrive at  the lake early enough to claim a favourite spot on the beach under the trees. The water there was crystal clear and pleasant for swimming. We spent all our time in the water when we were there, apart from when we were eating or laying stretched out on the sand with sand pillows under our heads. We stayed until the sun went down and were driven home to our beds to dream the sweet and hazy dreams of sun-baked children.

Sometimes the thunder clouds would spend three days gathering enough energy to burst forth into wild and wonderful thunder storms. Those days were a collection of gathering heat and humidity, of crankiness and the seeking out of electric fans and cool rooms below. The storm would hit in the evening, usually when one of us was in the bathtub scrubbing the summer dirt off the soles of our feet - a nightly ritual. The lightning would crack and flash, followed within seconds by a clap of thunder so mighty as to sound just above the peak of our rooftop. We counted the seconds between lightning and thunder and that equalled in miles, we were told, the distance of the storm from us. My dad would race up the stairs and tell whomever was in the tub to get right out before they were electrocuted. A few more claps of thunder and the heavy rain would begin. The rain was warm like bath water and often we would run outside to play in it while it washed our limp and dusty gardens clean. The air was unmistakably fresh and new after a storm and we all perked up like watered flowers the next morning after a cool sleep on the screened-in sunporch.

The summer days of my childhood appear like an album of faded 1970's photographs in my mind. A troupe of fit and tanned children wearing cut-off jeans and cotton tank tops hiking up to Pulpit Rock or to our family's secret spot for picking huckleberries. Nana and Grandad coming for their annual visit, arriving in their Cadillac and staying a the Viking Motel. Grandad taking the boys fishing while Nana talked over the price of strawberries with my mother in our kitchen. Hamburgers cooked on the hibachi and served with my mom's good bean salad and Nana's Raspberry Mallow dessert. The summer I watched the Olympic Games from beginning to end because it rained all of July that year - I sat on the sofa in front of the small portable black and white TV cheering on the competitors. I've been a fan of the Games ever since. My brothers water skiing with the neighbours, my older sisters in their bikinis soaking up the sun on their days off from summer jobs. Oh, those halcyon days.

There is more talk of year-round schooling here. Gone would be the traditional long Canadian summers, forever a welcome break for children all across this land. Would a month of holiday be enough for our children in summer? I don't know. Children can get used to anything. I do know that the two month summer is long enough for my children to feel ready and even excited to face another year by the time September arrives. By then they are ready, and so I am ready, to begin another cycle of school days, activities, and prescribed routine. For now, though, enough rain, enough busy-busy. Hang me out to dry in the sun!


  1. ...And finally resigned to pushing your bike up that long steep hill. The crackle of grit as the occasional footfall slipped on the sand sprinkled months ago by the city trucks that kept our roads passable during the long deep winters. The only respite from the heat, an occasional sprinkler, carelessly turned on during the heat of the day and left to quench a withered lettuce patch or row of string beans. Sometimes there was watermelon or fresh ice cream after dinner as we watched the sun set and gazed down the valley at the long thin arm of the lake now cooling under the shade of the mountains.

    Thanks for the re-memory. I too am sad at the prospect of year long compulsory schooling. I fear my children will not know the glorious unstructured freedom we enjoyed.

  2. What a wonderful story of your summer fun! Living in your suit resonates with me as we did the same...ending the summer with very brown skin and lots of adventures to share once school resumed.

    Hope you get some wonderful family time this summer...at a MUCH slower pace!

  3. Thank you so much for this summertime memoir!

    It's easy to romanticize the past, but I do think we had some very exceptional summers, freeranging around the lake. I loved how there was not only Lakeside, but with a bike ride there were several other little beaches we could enjoy. Day after day spent in and out of water, up and down the mountains--I can't think of anything better!

    Now that I like in a desert, water is a premium, and no one can swim anywhere for free. The cost of swimming is enough that my kids hardly ever find themselves in water in the summers, which is a serious bummer. Still, there's sprinklers, and that's always a hit.

  4. spin cycle for sure and i am feeling it now...though i def remember summers in suits...and we went camping all the time to the lake...and i hope to get some of that in with my boys this summer...enjoyed your story as well...let the wild rumpus begin...smiles.

  5. Be careful. Many is the time when that level of nostalgia results in the pitter-patter of little feet. ;-)

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. And Vince: that can be quite true :) Duly noted.

  7. A beautiful post which made me long for my distant summers too. We're still in the midst of that spin-cycle - but school is out next week, so I'm waiting to breathe huge sigh of relief. Our calendar, empty in August beyond references to holidays and days out, is waiting for me to turn over the page from crazy July. We have 6 weeks holidays here in the UK. I'm not complaining - especially as being a teacher too, I get to competely switch off. The kids are really scratchy at the moment - squabbling, loud and exhausting. They need that holiday - and you've just really reminded me of that.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!