Summer has been my least favorite season ever since I graduated from college. Growing up, of course, it was magical – my grandparents had a summer house at Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island along the Jersey Shore, and I spent many a lazy summer day searching for whatever treasures the tides had left on the beach and experiencing that pleasurable mix of fear and exhilaration while body surfing at high tide. Nanna had her rules: don’t go to the beach until your chores are done, don’t go for more than two hours, don’t go when there’s a west wind because of flies, etc. But all things considered, it was a little like what I imagined heaven to be.
Fast-forward to graduating from college and taking on my first real job. What a shock it was to go from having all summer to kick around doing close to nothing, to having just two weeks of vacation for cramming everything I wanted to enjoy into much too short a time. When that first June came along, my desire to “go down the shore” was so strong that I almost quit my job!
Over time, I packed summer into hurried, small doses – I’d take a moment, for example, to smell the roses before hopping into my car for my daily commute to work. I’d walk to the local ice cream spot, but that first bite of butter pecan inevitably tasted like some wonderful experience that was then, not now. Time to relax became something I had to plan for and schedule, and the feel of summer as it should be faded farther and farther away. When my kids were born I remembered just enough about what summers should be like to feel guilty every time I dropped them off at day care, imagining all day long how awful it must be for them to have to attend the equivalent of summer school.
Eventually, summer became something of a hassle. When people asked don’t you just love summer? and aren’t you glad it’s hot enough to swim? I’d smile and nod, all the while thinking – sure, except I’m stuck in an office most days, it’s hot on the train, I’m soaked by the time I get to work, my hair is a limp disaster and I NEVER swim any more.
Life took over and any joy I had once found in summer was wrapped up in the distant, hazy memory of the trivial pleasures of childhood. I focused on fall football and soccer games, winter holidays and spring flowers. Summer was just a season to get through.
Tomorrow is July 8. Four years ago, my youngest child, Emma, died suddenly and unexpectedly one warm summer evening in her sleep. I dread this day, this week and this month all year long, but the feeling intensifies starting on Mother’s day, the last day that the Geneva Mebanes were all together that year. I was leaving for a work assignment in London the next day, and I insisted on taking pictures of everyone – and further required that we all looked like we were having fun. I wanted to carry pictures of my happy family with me so I could put them all around my “flat” and my office at work.