Once Labor Day passed, it used to be the official end of childhood summer. It signaled pack the summer clothes away, think about school supplies. Who would be in my class, what had my friends done over the summer? From my birth until I was sixteen I spent each summer at my grandfather’s home in Miller Place, on the north shore of Long Island in New York. My mother, sisters and I were there the entire summer; my dad drove out from our winter home and his office job to spend each weekend with us. Miller Place was a time of glorious innocence and freedom. So much so that I wrote my first book about it, Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort.
Soothing Summer Memories
This memoir is filled with reflections on my childhood summers in an idyllic town. My grandfather’s house was almost like a character itself – a big white house on a hill with a huge screened-in porch that was the hub of the house. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were eaten at the big old oak table. Most days were spent on the beach swimming in the salty Long Island Sound and diving off the rocks. On rainy summer days the wooden shades on the porch were pulled down against the gentle rain, lamps turned on for card games of Canasta and I Doubt It or 1000-piece puzzles.
Carefree summers at Miller Place in the 1950’s sustained my twin sister and me through the inevitable clumsiness of adolescence and informed the beliefs and values that serve me today.
Even during summers when Miller Place was a memory, the end of summer has signaled similar thoughts. During my years of teaching, late August began getting ready for the end of summer. What had my colleagues done over the summer? Who would be in my class?
When I moved to Arizona in 2009, the line between summer and autumn became blurred. I was retired from teaching in school, but still teaching writing workshops. Mother Nature was capricious in her moods of hot hot days or a tease of a breeze in September. But there was still a hint of the laziness that came with summer; part-time hours of my choosing at summer workshops or writing in my office or with my writing group.
I’m not alone in these thoughts of remembering summer as a soothing memory retreat:
Yes, in summer we all live in the dreamy palace. ~ Mary Oliver
Then followed that beautiful season… Summer…. Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Summer afternoon, summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language. ~ Henry James
Summer with COVID
Summer 2020 is still too fresh, too raw, too … different to fall into a category of memories that soothe. What is this COVID thing? A wildfire in our mountains? The pressure cooker of social injustice passing the boiling point? Yes, there were some snippets of serenity: being on my patio at sunrise when the light is still early morning white, and the sky not yet blue, and the feeling of “it is all right” comes over me. But…I have not practiced “going there” as I have going back to Miller Place.
A Book Can Comfort
So when I need that memory retreat, I pick up my book and read Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. “In my memory I am resting in a hammock between a childhood that was and the reality of today. In it, I am in a place where I can still, if only in my daydreams, take off my shoes and run barefoot up the hill.”
What is a summer memory that soothes you?
Next up: Books that Bring Me Back to Center
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, at Zoom storytelling events, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.