Why I Love Summer
The thermometer just hit 90 degrees, the sun is at its highest, and Uncle Jon’s pool is open. My cousins and I have flocked to a town with no grocery store whose population is 500: it must be summer solstice.
While the dog-days of adulthood don’t hold a candle to our masterpiece teen seasons, Britainy, Erin, and I meet back in Dana, Indiana, to recreate scenes of summers past from muscle memory.
The only benefit of my parents’ divorce was that each summer from 1992 to 1999, I’d board a plane in North Carolina that dropped me into the dark soil of mid-June Indiana cornfields where I’d reunite with my paternal family. I was welcomed with glee at the airport, and we’d drive 90 minutes west on Highway 36 so that I could spend the next six weeks indulging in the pre-internet era of my grandparent’s WWII stories, midnight bike rides, and afternoons gossiping by the pool.
In the car, my welcoming committee gave me the requisite annual town brief: this shop had opened; that one closed, thus-and-so is dating him; you-know-who was caught misbehaving. Our summer escapades centered in the .29 square farm town, where our bikes dominated the streets and it took three minutes to do patrol. The year Britainy got her license only meant that our adventures shifted just slightly to neighboring towns’ ice cream stands.
Building a Mystery
Two decades ago, as we rode our bikes down rural routes into endless miles of Midwestern sunset, something stirred in my heart and
We shouted to one another as our spokes turned, wondering what life had been like in our fathers’ heyday, when my grandfather returned from the war to open one of Dana’s many grocery stores and the now-ghost town bustled with activity.
Our inexperienced feet walked the gravel alleys, waiting for the stones to uncover their secrets. My father and uncle fed our fascination over breakfasts at R&R Junction. They told tales of Saturdays nights in town, when the farm help came to spend their pay and the Lewman family store was open until midnight. We learned about haunted houses and overturned outhouses, racy shows at the county fair, and ancient tales of grumpy neighbors who used electricity to keep kids out of their yards. We soaked up the back-stories of the nicknames our fathers gave to every Dana citizen. We were taught what to do if we were attacked by canines in a dilapidated block called “Dog Town.” The girls and I didn’t question the wisdom handed down to us;
We joined the collective narrative through our own experiences jitterbugging to Glenn Miller and belting out the Andrews Sisters for the old folks. We won coveted prizes during the annual Ernie Pyle Fireman’s Festival, high with the excitement of being the biggest fish in a very little pond.
These days, Britainy, Erin, and I nurture the next generation, hoping for the luster we knew 20 years ago. We re-enact memories by make-shift campfires at dusk, reminder ourselves that the Indiana soil is fertile ground for sharing our family’s heritage. In those moments, I forget a world exists outside little Dana. As the sun surrenders to the corn fields, I remain frozen in that magical time, where we played in the middle of the street, lived for our fathers’ stories, and sang Jesus hymns at the Dana Community Bible Church.
Seventeen has turned thirty-five
I’m surprised that we’re still livin’
If we’ve done any wrong
I hope that we’re forgiven
Got a few kids of my own
And some days I still don’t know what to do
I hope that they’re not laughing too loud
When they hear me talkin’
Like this to you
–John Cougar Mellancamp, The Lonesome Jubilee, 1987
Where did you spend your childhood and teen summers? What do you remember most about those months of freedom from school? Who did you hang out with? What did you do?
Share your favorite summer memory in the comments section below, or tweet your story @jdanatrent.