I always think it's funny that summer "officially" starts at the Memorial Day weekend. For one, it's been boiling in various parts of the country for a while now (tho' not Chicago - don't get me started) and two, doesn't the summer start with the Summer Solstice on June 21? Anyway, this weekend, we will all start BBQ'ing every meal, wearing shorts and flip flops and generally adopting an entirely different way of life. Many work places switch over to "summer hours" which basically means leaving early on a Friday afternoon. Some schools are already out for the summer and most will be done by June 10th.
In many places in the States, you have to have two completely different wardrobes because of the huge diversity in weather. For example, in Chicago, you need heavy duty parkas and snow boots for about three of the long winter months; in the summer jeans are far too heavy, and don't even think about wearing a jacket. Most people have their winter things cleaned and they store them (under the bed in special zipped bags usually) until next winter. This time of year it's a bit maddening as it's shorts one day and back to jeans the next.
Labor Day (first Monday in September) signals the official end of the summer, which I always find a bit sad. (Well, you would too, facing a Chicago winter which is still going on this year.) Again, no matter the weather, the end of summer means that local pools are drained, water fountains are switched off and lifeguards at the beach are no longer on duty. All very official.
Ah, Memorial Day, the official beginning of summer. We didn’t need the solstice to tell us that the sunny, hot weather was here to stay, and that school would soon be a thing of the past. This was the gateway, the starting point, of the new (and welcomed) season.
It was a weekend filled with traditions: the annual parade, culminating at the cemetery for speeches and a reading of Flanders Fields, then barbeques, ball games and—most importantly—the first swim of the summer.
No built-in pools or sandy beaches for us; instead, we would assemble a group of about six kids and make the trek to the local swimming hole.
We would start from our house, wearing swim suits under our shirts and shorts, and begin the long walk from the dirt road we lived on. This would have recently been tarred to keep the dust down and—warmed by the sun—the tar would squish under our feet. From there we walked the hot tarmac of County Route 25 and after that the dusty fields sloping down toward Kinderhook Creek. We followed the old wagon road, kicking up low dust clouds in the stagnant air, and followed the edge of the fields to a break in the trees that gave access to a bend in the creek known, for as long as anyone could remember, as “Wagners.”
There we jumped off the rope swing and splashed in the staggeringly cold water. It would warm up in due time, but at the end of May the creek—pronounced ‘crik’—was still high and fast and cold. We would swim until our lips turned blue and then, shivering and dripping, would pull on our shorts and shirts and begin the return journey. We rarely bothered with towels; we knew we would be dry by the time we reached home.
We never considered that school didn’t end for another two weeks, or that the solstice was another week beyond that, Memorial Day delivered the promise of summer, and it rarely disappointed.
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