What is the meaning of a summer in Maine?

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Last night we walked down to the harbor for takeout seafood—a pint of fried shrimp, three fresh fish sandwiches, onion rings, a cup of clam chowder. On the way back home we passed Strouts Point Marina, where my brother worked each summer through middle and high school. Caroline mentioned this to Jay and said that maybe when he’s older he could work there too. At first he didn’t like the idea, but by the time we reached home Caroline had talked up the virtues of the job—learning to tie knots, getting to drive a launch—and Jay was convinced.

We ate our food on the back deck, and after the boys had finished their shrimp and scavenged the last of my chowder, they took to the backyard. It was past seven—bedtime normally—but the air was perfect, the sun was brilliantly low in the sky, and we relaxed our daily schedule to let other rhythms take over. Jay and Wally took turns throwing tennis balls to my stepfather’s labs, they weeded and watered the garden.  Wally picked a tart green blueberry, puckered his mouth as he chewed, and then picked another.

Caroline and I watched all this sitting side-by-side on the porch. It’s one of my favorite vantages, the kind we get when they’re playing with each other down the beach, or Jay’s racing ahead of us up a trail—the boys just far enough away that we can watch them operate deep in their own worlds.

As we sat on the porch I thought about teenage Jay working that marina job, and I thought again about why the idea of him spending summers in Maine feels so important to me. It’s not an idea that needs much justification of course—it’s really nice here, and there’s extended family around, and if that were all, it would be enough.

But late into a long summer day three weeks after the solstice, the lawn and trees overwhelmingly green from a torrential nighttime rain two days earlier, it occurred to me there are bigger reasons that coming here each summer is one of the most important things I’d like to give the boys.

There is something about a long summer day, about weeks and months of them, one after another, that stays with you your whole life, that creates a kind of longing which can steer you through adulthood. When you find yourself standing on a barren plain, or deep in the jungle of an ordinary day, the feeling you had as a kid in summer tells you which way to turn; it helps you chart a course even when there’s no evidence that you’re walking the right way.

Last night I watched Jay and Wally in the backyard, I listened to them shriek with joy as they ran with jumping dogs, I imagined how eagerly they’d fall asleep in a short while, tucked between the cool sheets of their beds. These days are what immortality feels like, they’re proof that it’s possible that delight, and not fear, gets the last word. I want them to learn that feeling as kids, to carry it with them into adulthood, and to know that if they live their lives well, they can have it again.

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4 thoughts on “What is the meaning of a summer in Maine?

  1. Great perspective on those long summer days, and it’s wonderful to be reading Growing Sideways again, Kevin.

  2. Agreed, welcome back. I’m actually longing for this version of summer, despite having never quite experienced it the same way myself…

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