Arrive Magazine, July-August 2003

    Final Stop:
    Seasons in the Sun
    Remembering those lazy, hazyand downright indelibledays of summer.

    By Bruce Kluger

    In her memoir, The Tender Land, Kathleen
    Finneran writes lovingly of her childhood
    summers in St. Louis, at one point
    summoning up those special evenings when
    the family would pile into the car and head off
    to the drive-in movie theater.

    “The sound of the gravel beneath the tires
    made arriving seem ceremonial,” Finneran
    recalls. “We brought our pillows with us, and
    my father let us take off our shirts and lie on
    the hood of the car, with our backs propped
    up against the windshield. It felt as if we were
    lying together in bed.”

    Like Finneran, I’ve discovered that the yearly arrival of the June solstice tugs at a
    part me long past but not forgotten. To me, summer will always be a collection of
    sights and smells; the sounds of crickets in the night, or the feel of sitting in an
    open convertible, the wind cutting through my hair as Brandy by Looking Glass,
    crackled over the AM dial.

    Although Summer 2003 promises the usual wave of Shakespeare festivals,
    Lallapaloozas and crafts fairs throughout the country, I will once again pass the
    season dwelling on those simpler, sweeter joys of summers long ago.

    Like bike riding until sundown. In my neighborhood, Daylight Savings Time
    transformed after-dinner activity from a diversion into a destination. Nightfall fell into
    those magic hours, in which time would suspend for as long as we could pedal. Like
    a rolling, rollicking battalion, the boys on our block would gather at the school
    parking lot at five-thirtyour desserts still fresh on our lipsthen, once assembled,
    tear off into the unknown, careening through the crisscross of our suburban streets
    with all the familiarity of jackrabbits bounding through the brush. The setting sun
    never phased us, for this was the one time of the year when we were not expected
    home until the burnt red of dusk had lazily dimmed to black.

    For me, summer was also the season of outdoor concerts. Unlike the clamorous
    bashes in smoky arenas to which we flocked the rest of the year, these events were
    more like communions, in which song and sky conspired to create an enchanting
    soundtrack designed especially for us. I’ll never forget attending the James Taylor
    concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, when I was 16. My
    brother and his cool friends sat in the fancy amphitheater seats; my motley pack
    and I sprawled on the lawn in the back. And yet afterward, all of us noted that we’d
    been caught up in the very same moment: when Taylor, having waited for the sky to
    turn navy, began singing You’ve Got a Friend. A small cheer had erupted during
    the first strains, but then quickly subsided, as everyoneyoung and oldsang
    along beneath the stars.

    Summer was a time of catching fire flies on the front lawn, then camping out in the
    back. My brothers and I frequently tried to make it through the night, but we never
    seemed to go the distance, as the evening chill and a mysterious sound or two from
    the shrubs sent us darting back to the warmth and safety of our bedrooms.

    Summer was writing postcards from camp, growing an inch or two taller, and, for the
    first time in life, understanding that friendships were as precious and fleeting as the
    balmy days themselves.

    And, of course, nothing in my life has ever left quite so indelible a mark as summer
    love. Was it really 27 years ago that I strolled along the James River in
    Williamsburg, Virginia, holding Johanna’s hand and wondering what the butterflies
    in my stomach were all about? Did I know at the timedid she?that we were
    simply adding another page to a scrapbook of memories to which we’d wistfully,
    gratefully, return for the rest of our days?

    (Illustration by Jonathan Carlson)