Once upon a time, my favorite thing about summer was not the day spent at the beach or pool, lifeguarding, getting a killer tan, hanging out with my friends, flirting with the boys. Nope. Those things were pretty good, I’ll admit, but my favorite part of a summer day was later.
Oh, I loved cleaning up after a day in the sun. A cool shower, lots of soap, all the while thinking about the night to come. A new tan revealed, new clothes donned, new hairstyle perfected. Few things were better than getting ready for going out with my friends, preparing for the adventures still unwritten, the time when everything was new and still to come.
It’s not much different now, here on vacation. Sure, the nights are less hedonistic and the clothes not quite as cool, but the feeling is the same. The expectation of a beginning. Turning the page to chapter two of the day — Night Falls. We get home from a day at the beach, shuffle the four kids into two different bathrooms for cleanup. They settle down with Cyberchase and goldfish crackers while the grownups take their turns in the shower. Washing my hair, the feeling is still the same as it was at age twenty-two — peace and hope, possiblity and abandon.
After we have gotten into our comfy clothes (ah, the sad by-product of a near-decade of marriage, comfy clothes versus hot fashion), Ray and I gather the kids on the back porch, in that perfect fading afternoon summer sunlight. We are too tired to do much else than officiate their games, but they are blessed with boundless energy. They set up bocce games in the soft grass, arguing shrilly about whose turn it is to throw the pallini, dictate convoluted new rules so all four can have an equal chance at scoring. Two turns into the match, it’s over. Tree climbing takes center stage, followed by rope jumping. Meanwhile, Ray has brought us cheese and crackers, a couple of beers, and we settle into deck chairs to watch our brood explore. Inevitably they notice we have food and they descend on us, devouring our small cache as neatly and easily as an army of ants on a sandwich crust.
Neither of us want to get up to prepare dinner, though it is late and we are risking meltdowns from at least the two littlest. The Cape wind rustles the trees around us, carrying with it the faint scent of the beach a quarter-mile away (or is it the towels I laid to dry over the deck railings?). Hydrangea and geraniums catch the last sun rays in their soft petals. We decide to grill chicken and steam local corn, call the children over to shuck the cobs. They chase Ray over to the grill where dinner sizzles, and circle him and the driveway on their scooters, while above us the sky turns the color of a new bruise. A summer night has arrived, cool and crisp, arriving easily, not unexpected and not unwelcome, much as an old friend does on his way through to somewhere not far from here.
I remember the nights of my youth, decadent, free, full of possiblity and beauty. These summer nights are not so different, but more. So much more.