A Look On The Lighter Side: Time traveling to a calmer summer

Judy Epstein

I put my thinking cap on this past weekend and tried to comment on recent events, but the sudden rush of bad news stories, each worse than the one before, knocked that cap right off my head. Instead, I decided to step into my time machine and revisit the past.

One of my favorite sounds of my childhood summer was the steady drone of my dad’s lawnmower, drifting in through the screens of my bedroom window. That meant it was a weekend, and as soon as Dad finished the back yard and showered, there would be pancakes!

Soon we all go to the neighborhood pool. After splashing water on my brothers for a while, I stretch out on my towel to dry. I lie there, eyes closed, while the hubbub continues around me: small children yelling; teenagers shrieking and laughing; the lower tones of grown-ups gossiping; and the splashes of people doing cannon balls off the diving board, including the metallic wobble of the board bouncing in place, after someone has leapt off it; a short period of silence; and then the splash. Every now and then comes the lifeguard’s whistle that means someone has broken another rule — probably either running on the pool deck or splashing one’s brothers.

It all fades to a reassuring background as I fall asleep in the sun. Time enough, hours later, to realize I had forgotten to use what we always called “suntan oil.”

For swim team, there are early morning weekday practices. First thing in the morning, the pool water is still, smooth as glass and freezing cold. But you hardly notice that after you take a big breath and dive in.

Swim meets bring more whistle-blowing. They also bring the sharp ripping sound of a deck of cards being shuffled for yet another round of the team’s endless game of “Hearts.” I never learned the game, but at least I came away knowing how to shuffle cards like a pro.

After too many laps, I bicycle home, thoroughly exhausted, and fall asleep in the back yard.

I awaken to the sound of buzzing in my ear. Is that a bee? A fly? Or a mosquito? Trying to figure that out leaves me wide awake.

Might as well get up and water the garden. There’s a metallic squeaking while I turn the faucet, and then the “whoosh” of water through the hose as I direct it at thirsty tomato plants.

I’d better look out for bees. When an overlooked peach falls from one of our trees and sits in the sun, it gets covered with bees. Dad insists they are harmless, drowsy and drunk on fermented peach juice; still they will react if a bare foot steps on them. That’s why flip-flops are a must.

Out in the street, boys use clothespins to attach playing cards to a bicycle. They think they’re making it sound like a motorcycle. To me, it just sounds like someone who has attached a playing card to a bicycle. I hope they’ve used a Joker because if not, what happens to the other 51 cards?

There are vacations, of course, and car trips. Sometimes we visit a cabin on a lake. That means the sound of someone letting the screen door slam and the exasperated sigh of an adult who has just said not to do that!

There is the “shush” of leaves moving in the breeze. There is the gentle sound of fish leaping from the water, mocking folks who have been out trying to catch them all morning.

There is the tinny sound of a transistor radio at night, carrying far across the water and bringing the distinctive sound of a baseball bat hitting a ball to the cheers of a crowd hundreds of miles away.

Other times we visit grandparents in Brooklyn. We kids are sent to bed before sundown, and fall asleep to the murmur of adults chatting on the terrace outside our window. There is also the clink of ice cubes as they swirl ice-cold glasses of, um, iced tea.

No summer is complete without a trip to the beach. Big waves crash and thunder up the sand, but sometimes sneak up quietly, with only the hiss of foam on their retreat to give them away. Children’s screams of laughter mix with the cries of sea gulls who are wheeling and swooping, looking to steal some French fries. More waves, more sea gulls–the sun is nice and warm, perfect for dozing off.

Here’s wishing all of us a few peaceful hours away from the news!

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