By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 27, 2022
My mother was a teacher, so she had a lengthy summer vacation. She worked hard during the other months and then exulted in being at home. Since she had more time to bake, the aroma of pie cooling in the kitchen became the symbol of summer freedom.
Summer was a small Eden that provided an escape for my sister and myself from the harsh reality of school. On the best summer days, our mother packed a picnic basket and poured chilled lemonade into a large thermos, and the family headed to one of Miami’s sparkling beaches. My parents had beach chairs, while my sister and I occupied a large towel on the sand.
While my sister and I braved the waves, my father took up his post on the shore, watching for sharks. Wearing sunblock wasn’t a major thing then, so our skin turned a nice shade of brown by day’s end. My sister and I built elaborate sand castles, complete with moats and spires. If an unsuspecting crab happened along, we chased him into the castle, and eventually set him free. Lunch was usually ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and lightly dusted with sand, followed by our mom’s still-warm coffee cake with a cinnamon and brown sugar topping.
Some early mornings, the family went fishing on the roadside of the Tamiami Trail. Our fishing rods were bamboo poles, and the bait consisted of worms, which meant the task of baiting the hooks was left to my father, who wasn’t repulsed by things that horrified the rest of the family.
I regarded catching a fish with decidedly mixed emotions. On the one hand, this was seen as a success that showed one’s skill at fishing, while on the other, I felt sorry for the captive and begged my father to set it free. He didn’t object, since my mother wasn’t keen on cleaning fish for supper. In fact, we all preferred going to a cafeteria, where the fish was served hot and crunchy, alongside a hill of salty fries and a crisp clump of coleslaw.
On other summer days, my sister and I entertained ourselves by dashing through the sprinklers on the front lawn. We ran barefooted through the yard, despite our mother’s dire warnings about snakes. Our mother would sometimes pack us lunches and draw a treasure map, and we would spend hours cheerfully hunting down the imaginary loot. We also morphed into horses and galloped around the yard, snickering joyfully, finally stopping for lunch over a pretend campfire.
Beneath the shade of a palm tree, we’d place our turtles’ bowls, so they could enjoy the fresh air. The twosome swam around in their makeshift ocean and perched on their plastic islands, beholding the sky. Unbeknownst to our parents, some mornings we shaped mountains and valleys with our bed sheets and invited the turtles to explore the terrain.
When my mother started talking about school supplies, a gloom descended upon us, for we knew the end of summer bliss was near. We knew the bible story about our first parents being kicked out of Eden, and considered school a prime example of the painful reality after the fall.
Adam had to work by the sweat of his brow, which we could relate to, since school didn’t just occupy the best hours of the day, but assignments also ate into our precious TV-watching time in the evening. No longer could we sleep until we woke up naturally, but instead had our dreams shattered by our mom’s voice: “Girls, time to get up!”
The school year trudged along predictably, until one golden day in May when we began the countdown until we’d be free again. For us, summer existed beyond the weary world of reality in a place beyond space and time. It was part of a magical and mysterious realm, and gave us sparkling glimpses of heaven. Even today, summer is a joyful time for me, as I recall afternoons marked by the salty scent of the sea, the smoke from an invisible campfire and the distant whinnying of horses.