BETH'S BYTES: Ode to Summer

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 My 23 years have always been marked by summers. 

There’s the summer of the circus, that summer my husband, Chad, worked in Alabama, the summer I was independent, the last summer I spent in my parents’ house, the summer of 1998 when my mother wore out a Savage Garden tape in our old blue Ford minivan, the summer I quit keeping a journal, the summer I met God in South Carolina, the summer I kept secrets, the summer we learned all the words to a Ray Stevens tape (boogety boogety) on the way to Youngstown to see my Grammy and my Papa and my newest baby cousins, the summer I got married, the summer I started working at the LaFollette Press.

But there is more to summer than just the theme slapped on a scrapbook or a file of photos named on the hard drive. There’s something I can’t quite name that causes my brain to say “Oh right. I know this. This is home.” It might be a smell. We’ll go with that.

I can’t quite pinpoint what the smell is because summer smells like so many different things, but I know it when I smell it and I go back.

My grandmother in Oneida had an awful habit of allowing me to do whatever I wanted, which in my case, meant allowing 12-year-old me to watch ER reruns on TNT. Mom had deemed it too graphic for my overactive imagination, but there were no rules at Nana’s house. I’d spend weeks with her in the summer and she would make me biscuits and gravy and she would drink coffee while I watched back-to-back episodes at 9 and 10 a.m. 

Years later, 19 and 20-year-old me would again spend time in the summer with Nana, only this time I drove myself to her house, drank coffee with her, and she would tell me more about her life, the stories she had saved for when I was mature enough to handle them - tales of her exploits and heartaches and regrets. 

Summer nights always make me think of the road trips with my parents and my brother and sister. My mother is a native of Youngstown, Ohio. She’s lived in Oneida with my dad since they got married in 1988. Any time enough money could be scraped together, we would be packed in the car to make the eight-hour journey to see grandparents, aunts and uncles. I can tell you the acceptable stopping points: Berea, Ky., Jeffersonville, Ohio, and perhaps somewhere near Akron if we were making good time. No talking going through Cincinnati or Columbus, (Dad has to concentrate!) and for Pete’s sake, DO NOT block the rear window. 

The summer between sophomore and junior years of college, I purchased a 1990 Acura Integra and spent most of those months in Ohio. I made the trip back and forth three times that season. The only acceptable stopping points? Berea, Ky. and Jeffersonville. It was a summer ritual, one to be followed. 

But then there were the little days, the smaller things, the fleeting summer moments barely worth a mention, but how I long for them now when life is hectic and there are bills to be paid and the work is piled up.

The summer mornings as a teen when my eyes would spring open at 8 a.m. and I could spend time with Mom before my brother and sister woke up. I know we had our battles when I was a teen, but summer mornings were always peaceful. Even now, I find myself calling Mom on warm, peaceful mornings, my coffee cup in hand. 

And then there were the times spent with high school friends, crowded into somebody’s bedroom or living room, or searching couch cushions for enough money to visit the water park in Williamsburg, or sometimes, just sitting on the porch, shooting the breeze and dreaming about getting out of town, of being better, of seeing more.

Those summers made me who I am. Every time the days get longer and hotter, I learn something new about myself, about the world, about the people I love, and the link between my greatest experiences and the smell of summer grows stronger. 

Summer is home. And while it’s so nice outside, you’ll find me on the porch with the windows open, and I probably won’t have shoes on, or I’ll be drinking coffee and hearing Nana’s stories. And when the weather grows cooler later this year, I’ll know myself better. 

Even when I’m an old woman and I have kids of my own, who have kids of their own, and I’m letting them watch TV shows they’re not old enough for, I’ll catch a breeze through the open window and I’ll know I’m home.