I used to mourn the passing of summer.
I recall trying to coax a few bream or catfish from the undercut creek bank in late August to get one last fish fry before school started and feeling a faint twinge in the pit of my stomach as I recalled the early days of June and a seemingly endless expanse of time to catch fish, build dams, play baseball, construct rafts that always sank, and spend humid, sultry afternoons in the shade reading the latest books checked out of the county bookmobile.
The first yellow leaves fluttering down from the skyscraper poplar tree — too big to reach around — that shaded the swimming hole came as a cruel reminder that fall and school were imminent. The sweet aroma of ripe fox grapes and muscadines offered tempting treats and the knowledge that Eden was about to be lost again.
The late crop of watermelons — an afternoon ritual — came in a bit smaller but no less sweet than the ones we enjoyed in mid-July. The lawn was sparse — ground down by three months of bare feet trampling over it in pursuit of baseballs, beagles and brothers.
The garden beside our house was a mishmash of green and amber as the sweet corn dried down and the early beans and peas turned to leggy vines while the late crop still produced blossoms and pods. The sweet potatoes offered a bright green ribbon, four rows wide, from one end of the plot to the other. Ragweed and crabgrass had gotten away from the earlier enthusiasm of hoe hands and competed with the tomatoes and butterbeans for sunlight and moisture.
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The sticky, painful, itchy sunburns of early summer had turned to bronze boy skin; the tenderness of feet first bared in May had morphed into calloused hooves that took on sticks and stones with equal indifference. But I knew that new shoes would soon incarcerate them again.
The strong smell of denim from the never-before-washed Wrangler blue jeans and the scratch of heavy starch that made them feel more like armor than appropriate apparel was a strong reminder that more than just feet and bare knees was about to lose its freedom. The wide open spaces of fields, woods and streams, along with the days of almost indeterminate opportunity — disturbed only occasionally by garden and yard chores and three-times-a week church services — would be replaced by early morning calls to the school bus and then hours pent up in stuffy classrooms ventilated only by open windows incapable of cooling sweaty bodies suffering in still-stiff clothes and unfamiliar shoes.
Evenings, instead of Sherlock Holmes and Long John Silver or watching old movies until late, were occupied by long division, diagramming sentences and the depressing thought that Christmas vacation was still months away.
This, of course, was before I was old enough to take advantage of an unexplainable interest in playing football and an even more curious attraction to girls — both of which made the first day of school easier to bear — easier but still a shock to the system of someone who gloried in the carefree days of summer vacation. I did not look forward to fall.
Until I moved to Texas.
As I sit here the day after Labor Day, a Tuesday cooled slightly by a refreshing rainfall yesterday, I realize that we are still in for several more weeks of oppressively hot weather, that 100-degree temperatures remain highly likely, and that rain will be as scarce as those creek-catfish in late August. Summer vacation may be over for school kids, but the thermometer doesn’t recognize the change.
It’s still hot. It’s still dry. It’s still summer. And I can’t wait for fall.