It’s a fact we all must live with. Summers change when you get older. Occasionally I forget I’ve been in the workforce for a decade, and whenever June comes around I get excited for summer vacation. That 3-month ship has sailed (Except for my teacher friends! Though they will tell you it basically amounts to 3 weeks, when you really think about it. But hey, I’m a civilian, it’s my job to grossly undervalue or understand what you do. Don’t blame me.) The point is, there’s no long stretch of leisure ahead of me. Sure, I’ve got some pockets of overly-scheduled fun on the books, I’m not a complete fuddy duddy (let’s bring it back). But I’ll never capture the sprawling summers of my youth.
Recently I asked my mom to try and track down this book she used to read to me. It turns out it’s literally called “Summer Vacation” and a hardcover of it is going for $54 on Amazon?? It’s about two little boys, Peter and Patrick, who each go on different, but similarly satisfying summer vacations. Peter goes to the mountains and Patrick goes to the beach. When they return home at the end of summer, the boys meet up and trade notes about each other’s trips. I think they conclude that both destinations have merits and they are lucky to be white males who will never want for anything. I think. I can’t remember the full story.
I think about that book every summer because like Peter and Patrick, I was very lucky to have parents who took me and my brother on classic New England vacations. But unlike Peter and Patrick, I didn’t have to choose the beach over the mountains, I had access to both. In your face, Pete and Pat! My grandparents on my dad’s side, lived in Ossipee, a small town in eastern New Hampshire, not far from the foothills of the White Mountains.
Not only that, but they lived on a little lake. In the middle of that lake was an uninhabited “island” we creatively called “Blueberry Island” because it was densely populated with blueberry bushes. We’d canoe out there and spend the afternoon filling up our DIY berry containers, made from recycled cottage cheese containers that hung in strings around our neck. (The brainchild of my Grampy who recognized the need to free up our hands in order to pick more berries.) To get to the lake you had to walk down a dirt path, hugged on other side by pine trees, and if you knew where to look, you’d find a patch of wild strawberries sprouting up from the floor.
At night, we’d take our blueberry haul back to my Grandparents’ house and my Grammy would make her famous blueberry dumplings. She may have been using a modified Bisquick recipe, I haven’t tracked down the recipe, but it was the best desert of my young life. And it was made that much more special because we only ate it there, in Ossipee, in the summer. We waited all year for it and it only got better with each repeat serving.
That was the mountains. But many summers were also spent at the beach in Rhode Island. We’d drive out in the off-season spring to go look at available rentals in the shore towns surrounding Misquamicut State Beach, which is located in the southwestern part of the state. I always enjoyed this part of the trip as much as the actual vacation.
If you’ve ever been to a summer town in the off-season you know how eery but thrilling it is to walk among the boarded up bungalows and surf shops, and feel like you’ve uncovered something long forgotten. Sometimes we were the first people to be in the house since the last summer and there’s a smell, when the must meets the sea air meets stale cigarette smoke from the lobby of the ancient realty company, that will always take me back.
Later, when we moved into the rental for the week, we did weird summer things like shower outdoors (it’s the only way the sand would leave our bodies) and foolishly try to conquer the cold Atlantic Ocean with nothing but a dinky boogie board velcro-ed to our wrists. Inevitably, the boards would betray us, clobbering me in the head the second I got bold enough to ride out a wave. I’d run back to the beach towels sobbing because “I almost died.” I’d vow never to go out back out, and a few days later I’d give in and try again.
This is what I think about when I think of summer. I also think about my formative years as a camper, and later a counselor, at our town’s Parks and Rec day camp. I think of my trying time at Field Hockey camp up in Springfield, Mass. And I think of Martha’s Vineyard and the trips we’d take with friends in high school that were never anything like Summer Sisters but that’s probably for the better. I think of the summer of 2008 when I first met Jeff and the summer of 2018 when I married him. Summers have changed since I was a kid but they still carry magic and I look forward to the possibility they bring. Now that I’m a New Yorker, I’m going to spend this summer exploring upstate and making new weird sense memories.