A friend popped in the other day with a dish of homemade vanilla ice cream. He fretted about the right combination of ingredients, but I had no such misgivings.
Absent preservatives, the frosty treat had a meltingly-short shelf life, which I countered by consuming it in record time. Each spoonful reminded me of family reunions so many summers ago when the uncles organized ice and salt for the wooden ice cream maker, and the older boy cousins took turns cranking.
That special flavor belongs to my childhood summers as do chunks of watermelon and juicy tomatoes – that actually tasted like tomatoes – straight from Grandma’s garden. And summer was not summer until butter, smeared on roastin’ ears fresh from the cornfield, dripped off our chins in messy scrumptiousness.
I also recall summers in Germany not so long ago, with another whole collection of favorite flavors. It was always asparagus time in Springe: Ingrid served the mild, white variety with butter sauce, new potatoes, and maybe a soup. And all year I hungrily anticipated the unfathomable assortment of breads and pastries – as well as simple layers of cheese-and-butter on crusty rolls from the school snack bar.
Summer is not measured simply by its tastes; certain sounds also belong to the outdoor season. I enjoy as rural a setting as an Urbana resident can achieve, but for true summer sounds I reach back once again to my days on River Road.
I loved to listen to morning then, with its symphony of nature: an entire orchestra of insects and mourning doves – and Holstein cows lowing softly as they grazed. A rooster’s crow punctuated the busy clucking of chickens tromping the ground around the hen house.
Few cars traveled our narrow country road, but we could hear the business of farming everywhere from tractors and hay balers and combines and the like. And the barn had its own set of sounds as the elevator sent bales into the hay mow and metal clinked in the milk house as my father cleaned equipment after the daily milkings.
An occasional Saturday afternoon might distinguish itself with a Reds’ ballgame on the radio or the strains of “The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer,” our little green table fan humming in the background. And as summer waned, we delighted in the din of county fair “noise”…
It is interesting about smells. They seem more difficult to conjure up; but with one whiff of a familiar scent, the mind returns immediately to a place, an experience, a moment in time.
I could usually bear the nose-crinkling odor of new whitewash in the barn long enough to stare in amazement at the pure, gleaming walls; and there was always somewhere on the farm the pungent smell of manure. In striking contrast, white ruffled catalpa blossoms, clusters of rambler roses, and a newly-mown yard offered up summer’s perfume, exotic and sweet and fresh.
But how to explain the morning smell that promises another hot day? Just as difficult to describe is the smell that predicts rain more accurately than any radar scan. Such is the power of olfactory memory.
And then there is the lavish show put on by Mother Nature, every piece of her handiwork vying for our attention. Everything in summer is, and has always been, splashy and flashy right before our eyes.
The pastels of spring, long since replaced by bright reds, hot pinks, and neon yellows, lit up our yards and gardens – and still do. Seemingly absent these days are the lush green leaves and boldly-orange day lilies that bordered our drives to Grandpa’s house near Rosewood. And every day I gaze at poppies abloom across a country meadow in a photo featured on Springe’s homepage.
Summer exaggerates everything. Storm clouds are darker and lightening more dazzling in July. So, too, the colors of patriotism appear more vivid on flags rippling in the breeze of a summer day. Fine diamonds pale in comparison to the brilliance of the summer sun glinting off Kiser Lake. And I sorely miss the blinking of enough lightning bugs to fill an entire yard – or at least an empty jelly jar topped by a hole-pocked lid.
Summer is meant for the young to feel grass, pebbles, or sand beneath their seasonably-bare feet. Summer is also meant for water adventures at the beach, the pool, the water park – or, for us, wading through puddles in the lane after a good rain or in Muddy Creek on its meander through the pasture across the road. And we always enjoyed that singular freedom possible only when not wearing undershirts for three whole months…
There is another side to that summery feeling of freedom. Children for sure and even some adults begin the season reveling in the mere thought of countless days stretching ahead, long days full of carefree promise.
As surely, however, as the sun streaks our hair and bronzes our skin, the shortening days race by until our baseball-games-vacation-Bible-school-long-weekends-in-the-camper-county-fair-back-to-school-shopping schedules narrow our focus. With reluctant sighs, we acquiesce to more serious, mature use of our time.
In the meantime, however, we always secretly anticipate another summer filling our senses with the sound of the merry-go-round…the smell of hamburgers on a grill…the sight of white-sailed boats adrift…the feel of a wafting breeze – and the taste of homemade ice cream. They will all surely beckon us again.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.