And the Livin' Is Easy

Summer. In astronomy, this is when the sun hits the peak of its northern journey away from the equator. In the heart, this is the gauzy period of the year when languid days seem to go on forever, or you wished they would.

Summers are for kids, regardless of age. "Hot enough for ya?" the old storekeeper would say --always--on such days. It would be maybe 90 in the shade, and after two hours of baseball--or pulling weeds--the shirt was plastered to the back with sweat mixed into a poultice of pollen and dust. Then it was time to escape the beating sun and enter the dark coolness of the town's general store.

In the old days the soft-drink bottles stood in rows in the cooler with the scratched red paint and a top that lifted on hinges from the front. Beads of moisture would stream down the bottle as it was pulled out and the neck canted into the opener fixed to the side of the cooler. The top coming off made a sucking noise, and the cap clicked into the holder below. If it was a Coke, you first would hold it up to read the bottom, being careful not to spill it, because the city where it was bottled was embossed there. Then came the long, first gulps of cold liquid, followed by a long ahhhhhh.

Summer mornings were for chores: an errand at the store, oiling the spring on the screen door, picking strawberries, cleaning up your room or fixing a broken fence slat. Afternoons were for bike rides, fishing, swimming, building a fort or tree house, making a raft or, on the really hot days, going to the double-feature matinee at the Orpheum ("Air Conditioned Inside").

Summer suppers were giant slices of tomatoes, corn on the cob, cold cuts and iced tea. They were better than winter suppers because they were over sooner and there was someplace to go: out. "Can I go out now?" you asked, and held your breath for the answer. Summer evenings were for kick-the-can or hide-'n'-seek or finding lightning bugs and putting them into bottles, or just wandering around town with the kids until a parent called and said that it was time to come home.

Summers meant wonderful thunderstorms. Puffy thunderheads, black at the bottom, boiled into the sky behind a hill. Sudden gusts of wind lashed the cottonwood trees. Then, in sheets, came the rain, and the lightning and the thunder. You ran home, had more iced tea and watched the storm from the swing on the front porch. Someone counted the seconds to figure out how close the lightning was. If there was fresh mown hay on the ground, fathers frowned and cursed. All you knew was that the rain made the hay smell better than anything you could think of. Well, almost.

Summer nights were for sleeping on the screened-in porch because it was cooler there. Faint sounds of a radio inside filtered out from under the door. The dark outside was alive with cricket noises, a dog barking far away and, once in a while, the hoot of an owl. You pulled the edge of a light cotton blanket up under your chin, wondered about things and, finally, slept.

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