#reverb14: summer homes
This is June's prompt so I'm a little behind, considering today is July 1. But this is how summer goes for me, now. All of a sudden it's July 1st and I'm wondering where all the time I thought I had has gone. Since classes ended, I've been to Puerto Rico, Louisville, Alabama, and lived between Illinois and Ohio. My summers are busy; they always have been. As a kid, I spent summers with my grandparents who carried on their lives with my brother and I along for the ride. I would spend days at my Granny's, playing in the yard, helping her categorize her thread, and scraps of material. I would sneak books off her shelves and sit in front of her window air conditioner and read. I made necklaces out of beads and watched The Price is Right. I waded in creeks near my grandparents' house, watched my grandfather work on motors while the mason jars of sweet tea sweated along with us in the sun. I never spent much time at home. I was talking to my mom about this recently, about how I never got homesick, about how nomadic I have always been. Because we moved every few years or so, I was never attached to one place, so summer was my chance to travel, visit friends and family, to have adventures. A few years ago when I was just beginning to remember the freedom summer can bring I wrote the following:
Summers in Alabama meant dark nights littered with fireflies and camp meeting church services where I heard my grandfather sing loudly and out of key, the same way I do now when it suits me. I loved riding in the back of my grandparents' car, staring out the window while the fireflies sparkled against the kudzu-lined back roads. This was my father's homeland; these were the smells, the heat, the landscape of his boyhood. And now they belonged to me and to my brother. There was the small creek in which he gigged frogs and skipped rocks and sometimes swam. There was the sharp curve in the road he'd taken a bit too fast and almost wrecked his car, the bridge he drove over on a stormy night in his VW bug when he almost didn't make it home, the field where he ran and dug up earthworms. I knew the stories by heart. We were creating our own landscape as we played and imagined and stayed up late eating ice-cream and popsicles.
As a young teenager, summers meant babysitting, and part-time jobs and swimming at the country club so often that my hair turned green. It meant reading books I was too young to read and carrying a paperback dictionary that became so waterlogged and warped by the end of summer, I'd ruined it for good. In high school, summer meant baseball tournaments (my brother's), camp where I was a counselor and freedom. I drove the car my grandparents bought me when I turned 18 to the middle of Conecuh County forest where I ruled the Arts and Crafts hut, sold supplies to campers to make shrinky-dinks, keychains and various other items they would take to their parents. I spent the summer in a cabin I shared with five other staff members and watched Days of Our Lives or swam in the lake during our lunch breaks. We swam at night, probably with alligators, laid on the deck and told stories about our lives. I was still a bit naive about the world and willing to believe people were honest. I had very few rules and cash in my pocket and friends who rubbed aloe vera on my sunburned skin after I spent too many hours in the sun.
As a graduate student, summers were lean and difficult, scrounging for classes to teach or taking classes or both. In my master's program, the summers were about cheap bottles of wine, nights of poetry and vodka, days on the bay or in the surf. It was driving to Florida on a just-cashed paycheck, sleeping on the floor in a friend's condo and listening to jazz and Buffett while the sun went down. Summer then was one Beat night after another and it was glorious and fleeting and full of gas station sandwiches, live bands, cheap motels and words. So many words and stories, an endless run of what could be.
As a Ph.D. student, summer meant work, practically living in coffee shops writing a dissertation, waiting for paychecks and being creative with what was in the fridge. But it was also rich with nights with friends, recalling our favorite songs, playing video games, closing down restaurants with our conversations, or games of pool. Summer meant being in love and hoping it was enough to make the crappy apartment, the steady diet of Ramen noodles and PBJ's worth it.
I guess I look at Summer now as a way to make the most of my time. I want to cram as much as I possibly can into the time I've got where I can choose responsibilities differently than I can any other time of year. As a college instructor, it isn't entirely true that I have summers "off" but it is true that the demands of my time are different. I have freedom to do things like run poetry workshops and work with young scholars on writing narratives. I can visit my family in Alabama, and swim with my niece and marvel at her long eyelashes. I get to see the world differently in the summer when the demands on my time are relaxed. But I also have to/need to/want to write, and do research and plan courses which means reading and seeking advice and collaborating across the country.
So, now that it's July, I'll be housesitting and for a few weeks M and I will be in the same place. We will establish a routine which includes cooking and working out and writing and drinking and laughing and hanging out with our friends. Whether summer or not, home, I think, is fluid. It's where the people you love are, where you find comfort and curiosity and kindness and joy. I have many places to call home, and I feel incredibly lucky that I do.
How are you spending your summer? Do you travel, stay home, work? What traditions does summer bring?