Summer: that rascal, that seductress, that fickle tease that gets us all heated up and then, without warning, drops us smack into September without so much as a proper goodbye. Like an engaging house guest, whose arrival we eagerly await, summer does not overstay its welcome, but as soon as autumn arrives, begins to float away.
For many, summer months are the bane of their existence. "Hot enough for you?" my mailman asks, and I am obliged to say: "no, never." I prefer my summers sultry, as they envelop me in their steamy clutches until I am forced to beg for mercy. I seek refuge under my backyard oak tree, or a favorite spot at Compo Beach where the road curves, and a breeze whispers gently before it turns the corner and disappears.
Not for me, the air conditioners, those intrusive boxes that hang off windows like modern-day gargoyles, or their silent partner-in-crime, central air, that wafts through each room until my teeth chatter.
Each year, I welcome summer into my life like a long-lost friend whose absence has been sorely missed. Around March (my birthday month) I begin to feel the signs of change. The winds blow, but it's a different kind of wind -- frisky, not fierce; playful, not mean -- that shakes the snow off branches, and whirls around in a frenzy, reminding us that the worst is behind us, and in just a few weeks, summer will sneak in when we aren't looking.
I came to cherish summer during my childhood, when Good Humor trucks came out of hiding, sprinklers hissed their misty spray and cherry pies sat on windowsills, aromatic steam rising from their pores like open wounds oozing their blood-red juice. Shovels and galoshes were stored away, winter coats were sent off to dry cleaners. A comforter, as airy as gossamer wings, replaced wool blankets that shrouded me all winter.
After the snow and sniffles were wiped away, and a dollop of spring departed, I peered out of my classroom window as the first intoxicating whiff of summer interrupted my studies.
"You're not paying attention," my teacher scolded. But she was wrong. I was deeply immersed in the immeasurable joy of a new season that was waiting for me on the other side of winter.
Suddenly, the mundane became magical. Catching fireflies replaced homework assignments. Picnic lunches were spread out on cemetery lawns next to dearly departed strangers. My friends and I lay in the grass on damp, green evenings until the sky was dotted with stars, and our parents coaxed us indoors to put closure on our day.
Summer satisfies to its end and offers us a reprieve from life's daily intrusions. For a moment we are caught up in it all, until late August when the first signs appear alerting us that change is in the air. Sunburns stop itching. Beaches empty out earlier. Corn isn't quite as sweet. Store shelves are suddenly piled high with back-to-school supplies.
The light is different now, giving way to earlier sunsets slithering behind the horizon line as cooler winds off the water whip up frothy-white bouquets of waves. Acorns dance on decks, and I, who waited all year for summer's arrival, begin mourning its loss even before it's gone.
Perhaps nature intended it so. Like a passionate but brief love affair that stops one's heart for a moment and then jolts us back to reality, summer, too, must be short-lived in order to appreciate its splendor -- a temptress, who woos us and then moves on.
But it leaves a gift called memory, so that on long winter nights when we are snowbound and shivering, we can recall a summer snapshot: homemade ice cream at Dr. Mike's outdoor stand, the first taste of watermelon on a scorching July afternoon, a child running along the water's edge at twilight... and the chill is momentarily lifted and winter seems less harsh.
Such is summer: a sweet reminder of slower days when we can put our torments to rest and our lives on hold, as we bask in the glow of doing nothing at all, feeling, if only for a little while, forever invincible and young.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com.