I remember listening to the Jimmy Buffet song “A Pirate Looks at Forty” when I was in high school. I pictured that pirate looking kind of like the Gorton’s Fisherman – weathered, ruddy and waaaay old. I mean, back then thirty was pretty much the end of the line and forty was beyond my un-furrowed brow’s comprehension entirely.
Summer holds a totally different meaning when you’re pushing forty, too.
Whether you’re sweating over bathing suit shopping or are too busy working on your spreadsheet of summer camps to even think about creating the Least Offensive Option with the J. Crew Swimfinder, I am here to transport you to three summers from your youth that were pure magic.
The Summer of Ten: The AC is off and the windows are open. Sounds of Skip Carey announcing that Dale Murphy is up to bat are faint in the background as you sprawl on the floor to devour the latest Baby-Sitters Club Super Special. Your eyes sting from the copious amounts of chlorine and your determination not to let the boys get the better of you at Sharks and Minnows. Your bathing suit choice is not a deliberate one, but the swim team-issued variety with a racer back and you put it on in the morning and it is worn all day. When it is time to go play Putt Putt after dinner you put on jams, a puff paint t-shirt and a banana clip and practically swoon from the back seat when Kokomo comes on the radio.
Family vacation means camping and days spent playing monopoly in the screen house and going on hikes, which are probably less than a mile but at the time feel like full-on safaris learning the difference between Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel, Swallowtails and Luna Moths. The day is not complete without a walk to the camping store at dusk for a popsicle, a can of Dr. Pepper or a moon pie.
The Summer of Fifteen: You can taste freedom as you walk to the pool with your friends. You line up your chairs and lie face down so your ragged copy of YM can be read while strategically positioned on the ground between stripy shadows created by slats of the lounge chair. Your hair is brassy and a little crunchy from the Sun-In but your best friend says it looks good and you are sure that is why the cute lifeguard is looking your way. Your Walkman is blasting Shine by Collective Soul and the days stretch before you with endless possibilities.
You say you are dreading that family vacation at the lake house but you actually can’t wait to hit the swimming hole where the water is cold and a tiny boat affectionately called Ole Leaky waits upside down tied to a tree outside ready to take you there.
The Summer of Twenty One: The benefit to working at that Mexican restaurant is the free vat of cheese dip and grocery-sized bag of chips you get to take home to your roommates at the end of the night. Well, that, and the fact that job affords you the opportunity to stay in your college apartment for the summer. The friends of Twenty One are pretty much family. They will not only convince you that going to step class after three beers would be fun but you will laugh about it with you for a solid week (okay, you are still laughing about it). The apartment complex pool is kind of like eternal spring break and you have pretty much memorized your part to The Boy Is Mine (were you Brandy or Monica?). True awakening was reading Faulkner and Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last semester, so you find the contemporary equivalent of Southernness in Conroy and Ann Rivers Siddons and lose yourself in Prince of Tides and Outer Banks. You have absolutely no idea what the real world holds but somehow can taste the realization that something precious and intangible about youth is slipping through your fingers and you can’t decide whether to open your hands and let it pass through quickly or hold tight to it, resisting, resisting…
None of these seemingly insignificant occurrences holds true magic on its own, I suppose, but I can’t help but think that summer’s ability to transform everyday moments into magic is still hanging somewhere in the warm air. Sitting at the pool the other day I could not help but smile in noticing that the Summer of Ten and the Summer of Fifteen are still alive and well, that Sharks and Minnows is still a thing (drain is base!) and that maybe, just maybe this will be a magic summer for someone else.
Do not worry about Kelly Barbrey this summer. She will be just fine sipping a glass of Kim Crawford on the front steps and listening to the whiz clink sound of her kids on their razor scooters in the driveway at dusk. And she looks nothing like the Gorton’s Fisherman…at least not yet. Pass the sunscreen. 🐟