They're all about the passage of time, but summer is the only season that causes hurt when it's over. We all remember being ripped away from its freedoms and returned to the clutches of dread school. It sure has a way of spoiling you for life. We know it breaks hearts -- hard to imagine Jo Stafford singing "The things we did last winter I'll remember all summer long." Yet once the tribulations of youth are behind you, and even though time begins to speed, summer remains special, each year's better than the previous. Which is why September is ever the cruelest month.
It dawned on me back in the early Reagan years on a short vacation trip to Mackinaw City in upper Lower Peninsula Michigan. It was early fall and the place was deserted. A summer resort had become a ghost town. Nothing but a long stretch of empty motels, eateries, and amusement parks. There had once been life here?
I don't need to travel as far these days to feel the same pang. It's enough to walk or drive past my favorite summer spot -- my neighborhood's community pool. Perfect in size -- eight 25 m. lanes wide, with diving and wading areas jutting out at opposite ends-and bordered on three sides by leafy parkland, it's also closed for nine months of the year, locked away behind its fence and utterly abandoned. From the perspective of non-summer it's difficult to recall what it was like to be inside that fence and better yet in the refreshing water, swimming laps and looking up at open sky in idyllic surroundings.
All right, not always idyllic, if you factor in the noise splashing children can generate. All that squealing energy. At this pool, at a quarter to every hour the lifeguard blows her whistle, for the obligatory rest break for anyone under 16. I knew our older son would be going places when as a small boy he'd scurry to the baby pool tucked in a corner of the property to wait out this unwarranted restriction of his aquatic activity. When the whistle blew again at the top of the hour, he'd be the first kid back in the pool, unrested, but his dignity intact.
To swim around here in non-summer one has to move indoors. Who can stand that? I tried it for a time but the unventilated chlorine was relentless and a 30-minute shower and tall glass of Listerine were powerless against its garlicky residue. Besides, swimming indoors is like swimming in an overheated cage. The idea is to emerge reinvigorated, not polluted.
I blame my tastes on growing up in Southern California, where I didn't know one could swim inside and where I think the outdoor pool was invented. The Pacific was great, but also cold and murky and clogged with sea weed not to mention the ubiquitous tar. The local city pool, "The Plunge," was huge but also ideal for children -- I taught myself to swim there, in three feet of water, just like that. And your feet didn't get sandy when you got out. There was just something about being in that baby blue water the ocean never could match. Even the sun reflected differently on it.
When friends of my parents came to town and stayed in oceanfront hotels, I'd go along with them on visits but instead of joining everyone on the beach would sneak off to the hotel's outdoor pool. That was the life! But that was also the West Coast and the home of endless summer.
Back in the real America we take our seasons more seriously and we're about to leave the best one behind. Our community pool closes on Labor Day, and the next day its squealing children will take their energies with them to their first day in school, a few blocks away. If the weather holds up, the pool may reopen the following weekend. But not for its normal 11 to 9 summer hours, just noon till six. No use thinking a few stolen days can bring back the real thing.