The summer of 2019 begins this weekend. Well, technically, that's not correct. The first official day of summer is June 21, the summer solstice. But for red-blooded, backyard-cooking, burger-flipping, hot dawg-eating Americans, Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer.
I plan on kicking off the summer of 2019 this weekend by putting on my seersucker shorts, sitting on my porch with family and friends, and praying for the return of endless summer.
Endless Summer was a 1966 movie about surfing. It was also the title of a 1974 album by the Beach Boys which featured such classic summer songs as "California Girls", "Surfin' USA", and "All Summer Long."
While the closest I ever came to surfing was skateboarding, Endless Summer was the perfect description of the summers of my childhood. I spent those glorious summers in the foothills of the Ozarks in the little town of Cherokee Village, Arkansas.
The Haltom mountain home (well, foothills home) had just two bedrooms, a kitchen, one bathroom, a den and a screened porch. But for me, it was a summer palace. The little house had no air conditioning. To cool off, we could literally jump in the lake or float on an inner tube in the nearby Spring River.
Our house also didn't have a television. But for entertainment, I had a small Japanese transistor radio. I spent most summer evenings sitting on the porch with the radio on my lap as I listened to Harry Carey broadcast Cardinals baseball games on KMOX radio from St. Louis. "Holy cow!" He would exclaim as Stan Musial belted a homerun.
My mother would sit beside me on the porch shelling butter beans and talking to Mrs. McKim who lived next door.
The woods surrounding our house were filled with flashing lights even on the darkest of nights. The lights were on the tails of lightning bugs flying around the house.
I would often put my transistor radio aside, get one of my mother's Mason jars from the kitchen, and then chase the lightning bugs, capturing a number of them and putting them in the jar. I would take a knife out and cut holes
in the jar's lid so my captive insects could breathe at least for a while.
The jar then became my bedside lantern as I fell asleep at night to the sound of chirping crickets.
When I awoke the next morning, my lantern would always be dim as its former residents would have all gone to firefly heaven. I confess I did not feel bad about it, although I should have. Fortunately for me, in those days
there was no SPCI - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Insects.
I spent my summer days swimming or fishing in the lake or canoeing on the river or riding my bicycle to nearby towns such as Mammoth Springs or Evening Shade.
And I also read a lot of books. I would like to say I read Romeo and Juliet or Oliver Twist. But instead I read about Archie and Veronica or Richie Rich. Yes, I read comic books.
Summers were longer in those days, lasting nearly 3 1/2 months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In those pre-air conditioning days, school did not resume until the Tuesday after Labor Day.
My endless summers ended when I became a teenager and began to have grown-up experiences, such as summer jobs or dating. It was exciting to get my driver's license on my 16th birthday, but I did not realize that borrowing my
father's car did not give me the mobility I had when I was riding my bicycle on Ozark hills when I was just 8 years old.
I then when I grew up, I was blessed with children of my own, and another shocking discovery. Summer was no longer endless. In fact, it was very short. It was no longer relaxing. It was incredibly hectic.
We had air conditioning which meant that businesses kept long hours and school started back in early August. Seriously, early August.
And my kids did not have the freedom I had experienced in my endless summers. Instead they attended one camp after another, with me serving as their uncompensated Uber driver.
Yes, we took family vacations in the summer, but they generally involved 20-hour long car trips to and from the Redneck Riviera, with my kids constantly asking, "Are we there yet, Daddy?"
Well, my kids are grown now. They have all driven themselves far away from home. I retired a few months ago, and am about to start my first summer in nearly 50 years with no real responsibilities other than to do what my wife
tells me to do. (Admittedly, that honey-do list can be a long one.)
While I miss my kids, I will visit them some over the summer but I don't have to drive them around any more.
And so this weekend as I sit on my porch listening to Mike Shannon broadcasting the Cardinals game on the radio, I'll be dreaming that this will be a very long summer - an encore presentation of the endless summers of my youth.
I will not be chasing lightning bugs. They seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. But I do plan to spend a lot of evenings on my porch, shelling butter beans and nodding off to sleep to the sound of chirping crickets.