With Fresh Eyes ...

The Call of Summer

The arrival of June summons remembrances that, to this day, evoke distant yet distinct images of youthful, carefree existence. Returning to my long-ago elementary school days, now clouded in a pensive and nostalgic haze, the end of the school year was a celebrated time. The imminent endless summer beckoned. It was letting go of routine and expectation. It was anticipation of backyard sleepovers, Lake Michigan swims, thunderstorms, and vacant lot baseball.  It was fireworks, picking blueberries on my grandfather’s farm in the heat of an August afternoon, and a road trip to Detroit to take in a Tigers game with my dad.

The jubilant sentiment of breaking free from the school year was not shared by all.  Summer, for some, brought added responsibility or uncertainty at home.  In these reflections, I speak of my experience. For the friends I shared it with, summer was a wondrous adventure.

It was early June 1963. I was 11 years old, at the end of my 5th grade year at Muskegon’s Nims School. It was several months from JFK’s assassination, an event which would change our lives and define the time. My friends and I would hear that news on a Friday afternoon in November, in our 6th grade classroom, but, for now, our thoughts were lost in the summer ahead.

The last week of school was a procession of closing exercises. The heavy textbooks touting the lessons of history and science were gathered in piles and stored away in the school’s cavernous hallway closets. Desks were emptied; coat closets were purged of forgotten jackets and gloves.  Projects and spelling tests were abandoned.  A brief session on Friday morning was the final leg of the concluding week. Young siblings not yet in school were permitted to tag along with our classmates that day, giving them a tease of what was ahead. The morning was joyous yet bittersweet. With report card in hand, we said goodbye to our teacher, who wished us a wonderful summer, with a final reminder to set aside time during our vacation to read. We savored the walk home, free from all inhibitions, wondering what to do in those first few hours of unhurried time.  Labor Day, and the start of a new school chapter, was an eternity away.

I still draw on those affections these many years later, as we herald in another summer.  They are projected in the walks I take frequently through the surrounding woods and dunes that I have come to know and love and of which I appreciate more as the years go by.  Life returns to its fullest and most vibrant in nature’s world  – there is a freshness in the air, a spark of new life and energy. The naturalist Edwin Way Teale captured the feeling of early summer’s call in his book A Walk Through the Year, remembering the leisurely strolls on his Connecticut farm: “Sunshine filters through the new leaves. This is the good time of year. These are the days we dreamed of in January and February.
Around us stretch the calm woods and the tranquil hills. The June air is redolent with earth perfumes.”  Taking in the fragrance of the woods and dunes transports me back to my 11-year-old self, walking home at school’s end into the newborn summer. 

That 11-year-old boy on his way home from school in 1963 now whispers in my ear.  He reminds me that those special moments we often lose sight of are indispensable in clarifying what is truly important. He wishes me well. He then moves on, for his summer is waiting.

Contact Rich at richmskgn@gmail.com.