Summer is a time that all children look forward to; whether it is to escape the everyday drudgery of the classrooms, or the noble goal of sleeping in, summer break is a much-anticipated time of year in a child’s life. There is an almost tangible sense of mounting joy near the end of the school year, and hearts soar at the prospect of visiting relatives, sleeping in and being lazy, or being free to get out of the dusty rooms and enjoy nature. My mother was a single parent, and she worked early in the morning; she would never allow my brother and me to stay home alone unsupervised even when we were older. As a result, we both woke up earlier than a child had any right to on a school break. Each morning, we would protest as we were forced out of bed to get dressed, and get ready to go to our grandparents’ house on the edge of town. Despite having to get up early every day during summer break, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to spend my summers with my grandparents in the country, where I learned to be appreciative of nature and its beauty.
I never slept in during this sacred time, and I was covetous of my classmates on hiatus. I would imagine them collectively waking up once the clock had gone past noon, sleep plucked from their eyes by the bright light shining in through their curtains. They would sleepily yawn, groggy from oversleeping in their disheveled pajamas, and pad into the kitchen to forage for whatever happened to be in reach, edible, and readily available. I could picture their hands outstretched and hovering like a humming bird poised. Their dainty limbs would be still, frozen; small arms, even belonging to the boys, fragile and prepubescent, reaching for the cereal boxes colored as brightly as flowers, vibrant and inviting like humming bird feeders. They would most likely choose cereal; they would not eat anything healthy, nothing with any real sustenance. The cereal boxes are lined up on the shelf, each boasting how nutritious it is to convince the parents to buy, buy, buy! At the same time, they display the toy inside, enlarged for detail, lurking in the crackle of the plastic bag, nestled in the sugary dust of crushed breakfast pellets. Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs! Now fortified with thirteen essential vitamins! Fruity Frosted Sugar Lumps! Part of this complete breakfast! Having accomplished this monumental task, they trudge into the living room to plant themselves firmly on the couch to watch television or play video games; with this one swift, final motion they declare here is where we spend our summers, this is how we spend our time off.
My grandparents live on a dead-end road, in the summer the trees standing on either side of the street make a grand tunnel entrance to their property. Acorn and walnut provide treasures when they are in season, the cherry trees to the left, beautiful when in bloom, burst with soft pastels; when they bear fruit, my brother and I are allowed to help my grandfather pick the cherries. Acorns, leaves, and sticks litter the lane from the latest thunderstorm, and they crunch under our sneakers. A giant sycamore tree stands alone to the right of the sidewalk; the leaves have a waxy smell. When the cicadas shed their skin, emerging from their exoskeleton with wings clear as glass, this is the tree that we find their shells on the most. Their empty bodies crackle under our fingertips, and we try to scare each other by gently pulling the tiny fragile husks off of the bark and attaching them to each other’s shirts.
Everywhere is the smell of earth; we play in the dirt, we thread our fingers through the grass, we dig, we make mud pies. We are not worried about getting dirty, and we are not worried about staining our clothes. My grandfather is a gardener, the scent of the tilled earth clings to him, and this smell mixed with the fragrance of Off bug repellent is what my grandfather constantly smells like during the day. He is always in his garden, and we are raised on freshly grown vegetables. To this day, I can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the grocery store, and they do not taste anything like the crisp, fresh food my grandfather would coax from the ground with his hands and hard work. I helped him shuck corn, and as I would peel at the green husks, silken threads intertwined themselves on my fingers. I helped him shell peas, and pick strawberries. I would be rewarded with a pear, straight from the tree and cut with the green handled knife he always carried with him, the blade dull and the wooden handle worn smooth from years of use. I can remember pulling tiny, hard gooseberries off of the bush and popping them in my mouth, laughing as everyone else cringed at the thought of the sour berries; I never really enjoyed the taste so much as the reaction from my family.
The air is fresh and clean; bees, flies, butterflies, lady bugs, and all manner of winged insects flit through the leaf-filtered sunlight. On the rare occasions that a gentle breeze dances through, we are granted a reprieve from the sweltering heat already creeping up on us, teasing us. Soon, it says, soon there will be red faces; soon there will be sweat-trickled foreheads, soon there will be great gulps of water on rare occasions we break from playing to refresh ourselves. We relish the breeze, and on that tiny puff of cool air, we can smell the blossoms.
Flowers surround the yard, and line the walkway. Red, pink, and white peonies circle the sycamore tree, providing the best smell in that lovely shade. Iris blooms, once just a few, have taken over the left side of the walk, cross-breeding and creating the deepest reds, the softest velvety purples, the most soothing cornflower blue. Next are the lilac bushes, towering high above my grade school self, and these are my mother’s favorite. I would pick them for her on occasion, and would require help from my grandmother bearing her orange handled scissors because the stems were too tough for my small hands to break. Tiger lily grows in spots, in corners, at the base of trees, wherever it can seem to catch a foothold; they grow almost like weeds, their patches of growth splash the green and create pockets of orange. White and yellow daffodils stand at attention on the footpaths leading the way to the house.