Summer Memories

Summertime and the livin’ is easy… such a special time. And it brings about fond memories of summers past when I came out of my cocoon and enjoyed being outdoors. Can you remember what it was like to be out of school for almost three months? Having picnics, going to the beach, going to the amusement park (Riverview), staying up late. So now as I sit on my deck sipping some cool water and watching Mia play with her toy on a beautiful Summer day, I thought I would  jot down some of my more vivid and special memories of Summers past.

My parents, brother and I lived in a very small three bedroom apartment on the third floor of a three flat building on the South Side of Chicago. Being on the top floor of the building you could count on the summer heat to come blasting down from the attic filling the apartment from corner to corner. My bedroom had one window at the foot of my bed. One of my fondest summer memories was sleeping upside down – sleeping in a position opposite of what I normally did so that my head could be by the window and I could feel the cool breezes directly on me. Many summer evenings I would flip my pillow to the opposite side of the bed and lay by the screened window looking at the stars, listening to the crickets and praying for a cool breeze. We lived directly next door to a Catholic School – Saint Pancratious (don’t ask, don’t know) – and at the beginning of every summer the parish would have its annual carnival complete with Ferris Wheel and Tilt-o-Whirl!  The Tilt-o-Whirl actually was set up on part of our property and every night for ten days as I lay by the window I could hear the motor from the ride’s generator and the screams of the people riding it. It was my summer lullaby for many years. I also remember our very first air conditioner. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We would wind up needing two window units to cool the entire apartment and even though they were obnoxiously loud they brought welcome relief to the summer heat. The only downside to getting air conditioners was that it often curtailed my joy of sleeping upside down.

I never was a day camp girl – I hated day camps. I was always the kid who threw up in the back of the bus on field trip days. But I loved going to the local pool and spent many a summer swimming at the McKinley Park pool. In later years my mom told me that she almost drowned in that pool and that she never wanted us to know because she did not want us to be afraid of the water.

But the highlight of every summer when I was a child undoubtedly was our special two week vacation. Every year we went to Beverly Shores Indiana (woo hoo!)- about two hours out of Chicago although it always felt like we were on the road forever before we got there. My mom and dad knew this woman who had a small boarding house with guest rooms and a common kitchen. My mom, her best friend and us kids (both dads would drop us off and come and stay on the weekends after work) would have what I thought was a dream vacation. Every day we would walk the quarter mile to the beach, play in the sand dunes, swim in Lake Michigan, sit in our inner tubes on the water, get bad sunburns (sunblock hadn’t been invented yet and no one knew of the perils of UV rays) and feel like we were living the good life – and we were. I remember every morning waking up to this distinct bird call – it wasn’t until years later that I found out it was the call of a bluejay. And I remember summer evenings playing baseball on the dirt road – with trees as our bases and using a plastic bat a whiffle ball. There was always a ton of mosquito bites to contend with (no West Nile Virus at the time) but it was worth it, especially when the fireflies came out and provided a beautiful evening light show.

Summer time was also the time when the Good Humor truck perused the neighborhood with the distinctive melody coming from the truck’s bull horns and of course that wonderful Good Humor Ice Cream. The second you heard that familiar music you would run into the house and beg your mom for some money to buy your favorite treat – mine was the ice-cream bar. To this day, no one makes a better ice-cream bar than Good Humor – or at least that is what I seem to remember.

As I got older, summer evenings were what I looked forward to the most. Especially once I was able to drive. I will never forget how free it felt to be behind the wheel of a car driving the streets of Chicago with the radio blasting and all the windows down. You really had no particular place to go but it was just the feeling of freedom you had driving in the summer air. It made you felt like you would live forever. I remember riding in my friend’s convertible for the first time – it felt like you were actually out on the street and could touch people but you were in a car. The radio was playing “Close To You” by the Carpenters and I remember singing it at the top of my lungs, my hair wildly blowing in the wind and I was feeling so happy and free. No amount of money, drugs or alcohol could ever recreate what I felt at that moment. What a feeling and what a memory!

As you get older the concept of summer vacation changes dramatically – unless you are a teacher and actually still have a three month summer vacation. Your days are now filled with work and although you earn “vacation time” it certainly is not those three glorious carefree months. If you do take a summer vacation you try to cram as much as you can into a week or two weeks, but it is never quite the same. You have greater responsibilities and the luxury of having twelve weeks for relaxation and fun is just not feasible anymore. Summer vacation is now gone forever, or so it seems to be.

But take heart. What goes around comes around. There is this thing called retirement and although it never dawned on me all of a sudden I have a summer vacation again! I really have a year-round vacation, but that feeling of being able to take the time and as much time as I chose to enjoy what the summer has to offer was a revelation for me when I first retired. I know, I am a slow learner – but all of a sudden I realized that those simple joys of years past can be had again. It is now just a matter of choosing to do them. So now when I drive down highway 287 with my windows down, hair blowing in the breeze, music blaring and singing at the top of my lungs – this summer it is to Adele singing “Rolling in the Deep” (some things just have to change) – I feel the joy that I felt at 18 albeit a different type of joy. When I was 18 I thought summer vacation was my right. Now I am just eternally grateful to have it back again.

So my wish for you is that you have a great Summer. Take some time to make some lasting memories. I am grateful that my parents did that for me. And now every morning when I hear the call of the bluejay it reminds me not only of memories past but of experiences yet to be. Hot fun in the Summertime!

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