The Leaving of Summer

This is in response to the daily question:

As a kid growing up in a tourist town (Atlantic City, N.J.), I always had mixed feelings about the end of summer.  I loved the summer’s warmth, the fun at the beach and the amusement piers, but the crowds of people who thought they owned the place simply because they showed up were awful.  The prospect of going back to school elicited excitement, for the mass exodus of the day-trippers as well as the chance to learn something new.  

Spring was always my favorite season, the cold of winter slowly loosening its grip on the earth, new plants forcing their tiny heads up through the dirt and unfurling their little leaves… that was always magical to me.  My family, coming from a long line of farmers, would laugh at my wonder of such things, but I still marvel at the miracle of plants growing.  Summer was fun, no school, no responsibilities, but it was a mixed bag for me.

On the one hand, the beauty of the shore was marred each summer by overcrowding and by the trash of those who came for the day.  I spent many hours picking up their garbage and putting it in the available trash receptacles.  Even as young as 7 or 8 years old, litter bothered me.  I shamed more than one adult who watched as a little girl calmly walked over to the trash they dropped on the sand and took it to the trashcan 10 feet away and deposited it for them.  I didn’t like to see their discomfort, but it pleased me when occasionally they would make a point of putting something in the trash before I left the area, as if to say, “Sorry, I get it.”  

Sometimes children are the best teachers of adults.  I try to keep this in mind as I grow older, to not discount someone simply because they are young.  (Sorry for the split infinitive, it is one of my personal peccadilloes as a writer to use this grammatical error, and I do it because in many cases it makes my meaning more clear.  Sometimes, like the one just written, it is simply a habit which I refuse to change.)  

I always met a few really nice people each summer, though, and learned about the differences in various cultures long before I was old enough to have picked up any prejudices.  I remember playing with other children of various shades of tan, sharing our snacks with each other and loving the strange new foods.  We had such fun, and my mother never allowed the prejudices she was taught to interfere with the fun we had.  

My favorite summer, my 15th summer, was spent working at a restaurant on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk as a waitress.  The year, 1970 if memory serves me correctly.  My coworkers were a bunch of college students who had come over for the summer from Ireland on work visas.  I had a big crush on the one fellow in the group, Brian.  The girls, Mary and Helena, used to tease him and me about it, to the point where he got himself another job.  Mary and Helena were sisters from Dublin.  We kept in touch for a few years after they returned home, but in one of our many moves, I lost touch with them.  

I think about them around the end of August, remembering how excited they were that my mom made them a care package to take with them on their flight home.  Tomato sandwiches, made from tomatoes grown in my grandmother’s garden, fresh, ripe and incomparably tasty, were the main part of the package, and they were delighted to have them.  I wonder how they’re getting on.  Who knows, in this day of internet making the world such a small place, maybe one day our paths will cross again.

The start of the new school year brought about all the possibilities of a new life.  How the school year went for me seemed to be almost entirely dependent on whether the teacher had taught my oldest brother or not.  He was a troubled kid, old enough to remember our father who walked out on the family when my brother was 2.  The teachers who had him in their class were automatically prejudiced against me, and school in their rooms was rough.  

In 5th grade, I lucked out and got a teacher who taught my 2nd oldest brother, who was an angel in school.  When I was treated so differently, praised, told “you are so much like your dear brother!” (as I was by the other teachers as well though with quite a different tone), I began to see that much of what I had to endure had nothing at all to do with me.  It’s taken many years for that lesson to sink in fully, but people are predisposed toward you for one reason or another and their treatment of you often has nothing to do with you at all.  

Still, I loved learning, so the teachers, even the ones who thought I was a troublemaker like my oldest brother, could find little fault with me.  What you look for you will find however, so I was in trouble often enough.  (Please, please, please do NOT ask me a question unless you want an honest answer.)

I think, though, the absolute best part of the end of summer was having the beach all to myself during the week.  Up until the end of October, the weather was still nice enough to go swimming in the afternoon, and many days after school were spent at the beach, homework waiting at home until after dinner, to be done while watching the evening TV programs.  The sand, warmed all day by a kinder sun, no longer burned bare feet on the trek to the water’s edge, and was warm enough to be comfortable for the 10 minutes we would take to dry ourselves before walking the 2 blocks home.  If you went straight home after coming out of the water, you would pick up a lot of sand that would not brush off and would end up everywhere, so we always waited a bit.  Beach sand gets everywhere and sticks like glue when wet.  Still that’s a small price to pay for the luxury of having your own private beach as a child.

I still have mixed emotions about the turning of the seasons.  It makes me sad to think of things dying in the coming months, but I understand the need for rest.  Sometimes I envy plants who follow their natural rhythms effortlessly and without interference.  It would be nice to hibernate, to rest for the winter, but we humans don’t do that.  We have to stay busy.  No rest for the weary, or is it no rest for the wicked?  *sigh*  “Autumn, the wind blows colder than the summer…” (from Edgar Winter’s song, Autumn)


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