Saturday, May 22, 2010

In the Good, Old Summertime

As the temperature rises, so do my hopes. It's a function of the memory, how it is connected to ambient states.

I remember, as if from yesterday, the
sound of the ice cream truck, and how it chose our house to stop in front of. We would converge at a run, clutching our dimes in sweaty hands, and then came the agony. To choose; how to choose? Popsicles of the sweet rainbow: root beer, 7-Up, sky blue flavor (what does the sky taste like? Like this). Then all day, playing; long days that seemed to promise no end, no rain. In my memory of summer, there is no rain. Ever.

Besides the neighborhood-wide games of kick the can ("All-y all-y in free!"), there was the family road trip. We always went to the beach for a couple of weeks, all the way from Ohio. This is the paying-the-piper part, the horrible before the happiness part. Because we would be going in one station wagon--a large one, to be sure, first the Comet, then the Country Squire--but there were five of us, and a scotch-plaid cooler for lunch at a wayside picnic table (it never, ever rained), and suitcases and, at least one summer, a large white styrofoam surfboard.

Dad would make little modules for us, one girl on the backseat floor, knees over the hump, pillow for the head, and still damned uncomfortable. One of us in a seat, the other half being piled high with towels and the portable bar--gin and tonics could not be done without, for it would not be summer then, to the grown-ups--that never missed an overnight outing with my parents. The third of us would have a pallet in the way back, smashed between the rest of the suitcases and the side. There was, of course, no air conditioning. And hours to fill, with what? Reading, of course. I always had books I had to read. In return, emphasized my father, we were to give advance warning that he needed to pull over. In the way back, there was no window to stick the head out of so to streak the side of the car with vomit.

We would fight. Of course: what's a summer road trip without the shrieking girls hitting each other, and the angry father threatening to leave us by the side of the highway if we didn't quit it? I never believed he would not do it, either, as he slowed down on the verge. My heart would pound; I could not imagine what would become of me, a lonesome girl standing on the side of I-80, watching the white station wagon accelerate toward small invisibility, but I imagined I would find out.

It would keep us quiet for a few minutes, as threats do, before the heat and carsickness and crampedness and miserable excuses for sisters finally overboiled again. When will we get there?

Well, finally, we would get there. Then came long ferry ride, and the excitement of the sea air, the rolling waves, the gulls swooping down for bits of bread (and bits of fingers) above the boat's wake, was a combustion chamber of magic. Pulling in to the pier at Nantucket, seeing our friends waving, growing larger by the moment, was sheer happiness in a frozen minute.

A lot of living takes place in two weeks at the beach when you're nine. A lot of bicycling, and getting slammed to the sand by the waves, and sunburn, and clam rolls, and bonfires on the beach after dark. The next day, we'd do it all all over again. Sometimes we'd pick blueberries, and then there would be pie.

Is it possible there is a world like this out there still, with shimmering heat rising and painful feet running over the hot parking lot, and no schedules to keep? My memory, intruding into today, says yes, and so it plans trips. Trips in the future that are going to be a lot like the trips of the past. Now that I am the parent, the days are shorter, and it sometimes rains. But I understand, in the deepest part of me, the part about the gin. Now I have inherited the portable bar. And it's coming with me. No matter where I go. I'll buy the limes when we get there.

7 comments:

Steve said...

You have jolted the way-back machine to life. Memories of bare feet, mosquitos, picnics, road trips when I didn't get car sick anymore and swimming in the creek. Oh, and sunburn, of course. :-)

Three cheers for summer!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Ah, yes! Swimming in the creek! This is a pleasure that never gets old. May you always have a swimming hole to visit in August. It's how to stay young forever.

StephenT said...

Now wait a minute: With that car seating arrangement, how could you kids all be properly buckled up in your seat belts/DOT-approved child restraint systems? What about the health risks of all that sun, too?

For us, there was also always the obligatory overnight stop at my Aunt & Uncle's house on the way to the beach: sleeping on a fold-up bed and inhaling clouds of second-hand cigarette smoke.

I think summer vacations must be a lot different for today's kids. And probably not as much fun.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Stephen, there *were* no accidents, of any kind, in the golden age of my youth! It was perfect, all the time!

Plus, the seatbelts (exactly like those we use on airplanes today, hmmm) always ended up stuck underneath the seat. Of course we couldn't use them (and our parents were too busy smoking to notice).

I'm trying to practice a little benign neglect so my kid can have a better vacation this year.

Scotty in Devon said...

Sad to say I obly started really enjoying my holidays in my teens - because thats when instead of going away on some endless family trip with Mum and Dad to some boring relatives place (not all were so bad - I first flew in a sailplane on one holiday in NZ), myself and my best mate Greg would put our packs on and hike off into the bush for a week or two. Or row our boats to an island in the bay that was deserted and camp there; swimming fishing and mucking about in boats. Come home smelling like the sea with hair like wire....

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Scotty: Evocative. I get the whole picture . . .

Eh. Someday maybe I'll write about my first trip alone with a friend, too, at 16--all the way from Ohio to Nantucket. In a Pinto. We didn't catch fire, though. Only a flat tire, and then way too many White Russians. Wait. Just one of those is too many.

Scotty in Devon (Breva750) said...

That would be nice to hear about that trip Melissa. Journeys really can and do change lives. I would not be here in the UK with a lovely wife and daughter if in 1997or so, a little depressed over a rejection I should have seen coming, I didn't take off for 10 days or so on my SRX600 with throw-over saddlebags and TOTALLY inadequate wet weather clothing in the Australian Alps. My motorcycle license only a week old at the time....I came back a changed man, determined to break out of 5 years of sleepwalking into mediocrity...