Yesterday was the summer solstice, and today is the first official day of summer.
Growing up (and well into adulthood) summer was my favorite season. And it wasn't really even close. I loved summer. Everything about it.
When I was a kid, summer meant going to my grandmother's house. My brother and I would spend most of our summers with her, in the small house right off Texas Highway 6 in the unincorporated town of Alexander, halfway between Dublin and Stephenville.
Actually, calling Alexander a town is probably overly generous. At one point it had been, complete with a town hall and a post office and even an elementary school. By the time we were spending summer with my grandmother most of that was gone. There was still a very tiny rural post office, staffed by one postal worker who stayed in a trailer behind it. But by the time I was 10 or 11 even that office was closed, and Alexander became part of Dublin for mail purposes.
Other than the one room post office, the rest of Alexander consisted of a Baptist church, a feedlot, and a boarded up gas station.
My life - my whole world really - existed within a 50 mile radius of Alexander. Most of both sides of my family lived in either Dublin or Stephenville. I had spent so little time in other places that my brother and I used to talk about "foreigners" whenever we spotted a truck without Texas tags.
My grandmother's house was next door to that long since closed Texaco station. My grandfather had run the station for years, but as he advanced in age he decided to close it and spend all his time on his hog farm a few miles down the road. The station was boarded up, and the pumps turned off. The big metal Texaco sign still stood 30 feet high, though, and for years people would knock on my grandmother's door asking if there was anyone who could pump gas.
Behind my grandmother's house and the gas station my grandfather kept a large junkyard full of old trucks, spare parts, and random broken machines. There was also a small barn where the kids could keep livestock that they were raising for 4H. My mom and aunts and uncles always had animals in those pens when they were kids. When my brother and I were small my two aunts (who weren't much older than us) still kept some animals there.
Our summers were spent outside. We would do jobs for my grandmother - cut the grass, take out trash, clean the house. We would go out to the hog farm with my grandfather when he was still alive and do all of the work, large and small, that makes a farm work. Feed and water animals, mend fence, pull weeds.
There were lots of jobs, but it wasn't all work. We also spent time playing in the junkyard, building things out of the scrap metal. I would create elaborate sets and assign parts to my brother and cousins for plays I wrote in my head on the fly. Many involved aliens. All involved cowboys. I didn't know many aliens. I knew lots of cowboys. There was a basketball hoop on the side of the gas station, and I would shoot whenever I could. We swam in stock tanks and played with garden hoses.
My grandmother had strict rules about the TV, so it was the one time of the year I didn't watch a lot of TV. We were so far out in the country that even with her 25 foot antenna we only got 2 1/2 channels anyway. Our biggest daily excitement was when the mail was delivered.
Looking back on it all now it feels like a completely different world. Like one of the alien stories I made up in the junkyard, where the portal to another dimension was really just the rusted back end of a 1964 Chevy truck with no engine.
So much about the world has changed. So much of my life has changed.
And. As much as things change, some things stay the same. Because nothing is just one thing.
I still love summer.
When I was a kid, summer represented freedom. It was freedom from my stepdad and my mom and from all the drama at home. It was freedom from who I had to be and what I had to carry in my "real life." It was (apart from the rattlesnakes) safe and free. The heat brought liberation and a feeling of only being accountable for me and my brother. I could just be.
In some ways, the joy I feel in summer now is much the same. In summer there is no schedule. No one has to be anywhere at a specific time (mostly). Barb works from home and has flexibility in when her day starts and ends. The kids are out of school, so there is no specific wake up time. Our days are shaped by when the pool opens and by camp (if they have one - most weeks they don't) and by the hours of the museum or Kidzu. I really try to create a space that is a distant cousin of my own childhood summers - a space of freedom and restoration.
And through it all I have learned that there are 5 things that I truly love about summer. I know that summer isn't for everyone and that, even if it is for you, your list may vary. This is my personal top 5. I always welcome discussion.
So. Here goes. The 5 Best Things About Summer.
1 - The Heat
I know. It's hot and getting hotter. And I get that the heat is not everyone's bag.
But for me, life starts at 80 degrees. It is how I grew up, what I got used to. I am not impervious to heat. I spent time in Kuwait at 125 degrees. It was no joke. At a certain point, hot is just hot.
Below that? I like the warmth. I like the life it brings. The trees are greener, insects and reptiles thrive, and the whole world seems to move and shimmer.
2 - The Water
With the heat comes the water. Beaches, pools, rivers, lakes and even the stock tanks of my youth. I love all of them. I love the flip flops and the casual vibe. The altered expectations and lowered inhibitions.
The water is social, but also a place where you can be alone. I love going to the pool and seeing kids play AND grandparents read. The water is a gathering place. It has been for us for millennia.
3 - Fewer Clothes
I am not a huge fan of clothes. If you have met me in real life you know this. My fashion sense extends to my t-shirt collection and running shoes that can best be described as "garish." Beyond that I have never been super into fashion. I have owned one suit in my life and worn it exactly twice.
Summer gives me an excuse to further edit an already minimal wardrobe. Shorts, sandals and a t-shirt when legally required. Other than that, I am just loving being as unencumbered by fabric as possible.
Yes, this drives my kids absolutely bonkers.
4 - Barbecues
I don't need an excuse to fire up the grill and will do so in (almost) any weather. But summer and barbecues go together like peas and carrots. Speaking of which have you ever grilled carrots? Amazing.
Barbecues (like the water) are communal, and harken back to a time of shared bounty. During the summer we will cook outside, eat outside, and then just sit talking and eating popsicles.
A happy life is a quilt knit together with small things. It is quiet moments connected together that creates the fabric of our lives. Barbecues on the back porch are a big part of that for me.
5 - Ice Cream
I mean. C'mon. This one is self-explanatory.
I don't like most desserts. I actively dislike chocolate. I could care less about cake. Most pies are just... okay. But ice cream? Oh yeah.
Plus, who doesn't get excited when they hear the jingle of the ice cream truck?
Summer is a unique and special season. I hope you find a way to make it yours, and to find the small moments that make your heart smile.
Be well y'all. Thanks for reading.
Have a good week, and keep pounding the rock.