In Our Good Old Summertime

Yes, I KNOW I talk too much about growing up in the 1950s. But I can’t help it–I had a great growing-up, and the 50s was when it happened, and oh, how wonderful those days were! The summer days especially were glorious; endless sweeping vistas of hot days and cool nights, brilliant stars against a blue-black velvet sky, and the honey color of the morning sun that teased your eyelids open, and insisted that you wake up and see what the day would bring.

There was a luxury of time stretching far ahead; I felt I would live a hundred years. I was literally bursting with energy, and no summer day was complete without climbing at least one tree, jumping off the dock with a big KERSPLASH, reading in a sunny spot outside, or scraping together nickels and dimes for a lemon sherbet cone downtown at Rexall’s Drug Store.

I had chores to do just about every day, but once they were done, there was so much to do! I might ride my bike all the way to my grandparents’ house the next town over. Once there, I could take out my grandfather’s beautiful old wooden kayak and paddle all around the shallows in Mirror Lake, or just let the waves push me where they would, with me day-dreaming and drowsy in the heat of the morning.

Some summers my southern cousins, Jeff  and Cindy, would come up with their parents from South Carolina to visit. They stayed at my grandparents’ house, and Cindy and I, being close in age, would do things together–that is, until her wild and unpredictable temper broke loose. I swear I never understood that kid; she got mad faster and stayed mad longer than anyone I had ever known. Not only that, but she sassed her mother regularly–something I would never have dreamed of doing with my mom.

In my house, we were big on manners and courtesy with each other; that’s what I was used to. But Cindy was like a wild animal on a rampage when she got her temper up. I could never wrap my mind around someone who acted that way around grown-ups and lived to tell the tale. My own parents didn’t put up with it, from her or anyone else. I used to wonder why Cindy’s parents let her get away with it. All I knew was that once Cindy and family went home, my stomach would finally relax.

But other than those visits, summer was magical. Sometimes I slept out on the lawn at night in the sleeping bag I used for camp. It was wonderfully freeing to go to sleep hearing the peepers and whippoorwills and the occasional loon, its haunting cry echoing out on the lake. I would wake up the next morning, my sleeping bag twinkling with dew drops, and feeling absolutely great.

I laugh to myself now when I think of how effortlessly my body moved and how strong I was; I never thought I would ever feel anything but healthy and free all my life. Back then my body could do amazing things; I could hold my breath for a long time while swimming underwater. I could shimmy up a tree in no time flat, I could do back-bends and somersaults, and I could run like the wind. Nothing hurt, no joints cracked or complained, and I don’t remember any pain except maybe the time I knelt down on the sandy bottom of the beach on a hidden chunk of glass that cut deeply into my knee. I was shocked to see a chunk of my flesh bob up in the water, and nearly passed out.

My dad got to me first, wrapped me in a towel and carried me to car and drove me to the doctor’s office. The cut was deep enough to need stitches, and Dad stayed right by me while the doctor sewed me up. I ended up feeling more than a little proud of that scar (which I can still clearly see); Dad called it my first “battle scar.”

When summer thunderstorms came, Mom and Dad and I bundled up in blankets and sat on the front porch, enjoying the light show over the lake and all the noise. It was like going to the movies for us. Living on the lake was a lot of fun. Often in the early morning when mist hung over the water, there would often be a beautiful blue heron standing on our dock. To this day blue herons are my favorite birds, and seeing one kind of puts a blessing on my day.

As Wendy said to Peter Pan when he finally flew back through her window, years after he said he would return, “I am ever so many years past 20.” But my heart is still young and hopeful. I still feel that, if I really wanted to, I could still do those back-bends and climb a tree….I haven’t done either yet, but I bet I could if I tried.


Why I Love Downton Abbey

I love all things British, including Monty Python, The Duchess of Duke Street, The Vicar of Dibley, Absolutely Fabulous, The Goodies, Vicious, Are You Being Served, As Time Goes By, The Two Ronnies, and so much, much more. I have gotten up insanely early to watch royal weddings, and last year I couldn’t wait to see the newest royal baby, Prince George.

I love all the British customs and slang, and bore the pants off everyone around me when I declare that something is “brilliant!” or elbow the person next to me, saying, “wink, wink, nudge, nudge–say no more, eh, eh?” or yell “bugger!” when I drop something. Sure, my ancestry is part English, but it certainly doesn’t make me British. (Or, as my favorite uncle likes to say, ‘if my cat had kittens in the oven, I wouldn’t call ’em biscuits!’)

It all began for me with the British Invasion in the ’60s. Oh, how all of us girls loved the Beatles! We loved their music, their look, their stage presence, and most of all, how we loved their accents! We all became honorary Liverpudlians overnight. Our outfits were as close to Carnaby Street as possible, and we played “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and “Twist and Shout” until our parents wanted send us all to a remote desert island.

As the years rolled on, I never lost my desire to visit England, and to soak up all that wonderful Britishness. If and when I do visit, I will want to do all those nauseatingly touristy things like watch the changing of the guard, walk along the Thames, visit the Tower of London, and feast my eyes on the Crown Jewels.

When Downton Abbey first aired, I somehow missed watching it from the very beginning. When I finally did, I had missed two seasons and had to catch up. These days I never miss an episode, and should anyone call during while it’s on, I am downright rude, saying “sorry–Downton’s on!”

Downton Abbey takes me to a time that is impossible to match these days; those grand and glorious and totally self-involved days are long gone. If you were a member of the titled aristocracy, life was wonderful. There were servants to dress you, bathe you, do your hair, keep your clothes clean and ironed, your jewelry polished, and all your incidentals taken care of for you. Young girls were raised to be beautiful, charming, play the piano, sing and present themselves well. The object was to marry well, bear lovely children (cared for of course by a trusted nanny) and be a gracious socialite.

But if you were female, poor, uneducated and came from a lower class, life was pretty circumscribed. You could be a cook or domestic, a lady’s maid, a seamstress, a servant, a poor man’s wife, or, if nothing else, a prostitute.

It is a fantasy to us now; times have changed so much, and all the grace and manners of that time have gone the way of all things. I’m not suggesting that those times should exist now; they really couldn’t at this time in our world. I realize that Downton Abbey represents an important time in history, much like the Old South was prior to the Civil War. I understand that things weren’t wonderful for everyone; unlike America, freedoms were limited. It’s just that the show makes me think of all that once was good, gracious, lovely and serene; a bygone time that could no more flourish these days as a fish can live without water.

But, oh–how lovely it all looked on the outside!